Friday, June 26, 2015

Supreme Court saves ACA subsidies; recognizes fundamental right to marriage

June is an exciting time for Supreme Court watchers; often, the most anticipated cases of the term get released in the Court's final week. In the past two days, the Court announced two of its most significant decisions of this term.

More analysis to come; here's a quick summary of the two cases:

Affordable Care Act: Saved Again
On Thursday, the Court issued its opinion in King v. Burwell (see my prior coverage), holding that the Affordable Care Act allows the IRS to provide for subsidies on the federal health exchanges (in addition to the state-run exchanges).

  • 6-3 decision, with Chief Justice Roberts writing (opinion), joined by Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. The key provision in the ACA being challenged: "an Exchange established by the State under [42 U. S. C. §18031]" is ambiguous as to whether it covers exchanges established by the federal government. Chevron deference is not the appropriate framework; Court looks to the purpose of the ACA to conclude that Congress must have meant to include federal exchanges in the subsidies.
  • Dissent by Justice Scalia, joined by Justices Thomas and Alito.  The dissent thinks that the statute, by its terms, does not encompass federal exchanges, and accuses the majority of "interpretive jiggery-pokery" to reach the opposite result.

Fundamental Right to Marriage
This morning, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in the same-sex marriage appeal, Obergefell v, Hodges.

  • 5-4 decision, with Justice Kennedy writing for the majority (opinion), joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan.   The right of same-sex couples to marry is guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process and Equal Protection clauses. 
  • Separate dissents by each of the four dissenting justices. Chief Justice Roberts's dissent likens the majority's opinion to Lochner-style activism. (Lochner is a much-maligned 1905 opinion holding that there is a fundamental right to contract inherent in the Fourteenth Amendment). Justice Scalia denounces "the hubris in today's judicial Putsch" as "pretentious" and "egotistic."