Republican states at war over Obamacare case

Posted by admin | Posted in Politics | Posted on 31-01-2015-05-2008


Supreme Court Justices John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Anthony Kennedy

It’s a war of words, anyway. In conflicting briefs submitted to the Supreme Court in the King v. Burwell health insurance subsidy case, Republican attorneys general argue either for or against the federal government’s case that the intent of the statue was to provide health insurance subsidies to all who qualify based on income, regardless of whether they got their insurance through a state or the federal market. There are six state Republicans arguing with the plaintiffs, and seven Republican states in a group of 22 agreeing with the feds.

And the evidence, as it has been throughout this case, is all on the side of the states on the side of the feds. As is Supreme Court precedence.

To prevail, however, the plaintiffs in King must do more than simply show that they have discovered the best way to read Obamacare’s text. Under the Supreme Court’s decision in Pennhurst State School and Hospital v. Halderman, a state cannot be bound by an alleged condition tucked into a federal grant program “if a State is unaware of the conditions or is unable to ascertain what is expected of it.” Rather, when Congress says that it will only pay out money if a state takes a particular action, the Supreme Court insists “that Congress speak with a clear voice.” Thus, if there is uncertainty about how to read the law, that uncertainty must be resolved against the plaintiffs’ reading and in favor of the view that the law does not make tax credits conditional upon anything.

And that’s not all the bad news for the King plaintiffs. Under the Supreme Court’s opinion in Arlington Central School District v. Murphy, the question of whether a state is able to ascertain whether federal money comes with conditions must be evaluated “from the perspective of a state official who is engaged in the process of deciding whether the State should accept . . . the obligations that go with those funds.” Thus, if there is a wealth of evidence showing that state officials did not read Obamacare in the same way the King plaintiffs do—and it turns out that there is—that evidence also cuts strongly against a decision for the plaintiffs in King. […]

On Wednesday, a much larger bloc of 22 states plus the District of Columbia filed their own brief opposing the King plaintiffs’ attempt to cut of tax credits. After reading that brief, it is not hard to guess why the smaller group of anti-Obamacare attorneys general were not able to muster any evidence for their position—there are piles of evidence demonstrating that the six attorneys general are simply wrong about how state officials understood the law.

So you’ve got six Republican AGs arguing that of course all the states completely understood that their residents were going to be penalized by not getting subsidies if they didn’t set up their own exchanges. And yet, they would argue, all those states decided to use the federal exchange and punish their own residents. Worse for them, there are actually statements by the governors and other officials on those six states clearly stating that they understood the law to mean that the states had flexibility and that their residents would get the subsidies, no matter what the state decided to do about setting up an exchange.

It’s a contradiction so glaring that a Supreme Court justice would have to be completely blinded by ideology not to acknowledge. I can think of at least three who will fit that description.

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