Originally published December 22, 2014
Date: June 2015
(Washington) The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the federal subsidies and state tax credits were limited to those state run exchanges, rather than those that operated through the federally operated exchanges. The Republican appointed justices all joined the majority while the Democratic appointed ones were in the minority. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority, joined by Justices Kennedy, Scalia, Alito, and Thomas. Dissenting was Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. The Chief Justice wrote for the majority that the statutory language clearly referenced to state run exchanges and if Congress should alter the language, they should act on it. Justice Scalia concurred, noting his long history of looking at congressional intent to determine the intent of the statutory language. In Ginsberg’s dissent, she took a broader view of the statutory language and argued the Court was being needlessly pedantic and pointed in trying to limit the extent of the subsidies.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) both stated they would negotiate with the White House on the Affordable Care Act subsidies, and both leaders indicated they would seek reform. For its part, the White House said it would push Congress to send clarifying language on the Affordable Care Act, to ensure the federal subsidies remained in place for those who had already signed up for health care plans. Analysts suggested the states would move quickly, with technical language to comply with the court decision, in order to avoid a situation where people were unable to pay the premiums.
In the end, most analysts called the Court decision a political one, where the conservative majority was sending a signal about their views of the Affordable Care Act. Analysts noted that the state legislatures had been given an out to redefine and reclassify the exchanges as state – based, thus limiting the fallout. Most analysts predicted the states would, in fact, do that. The move by the Court gave conservative opponents a bargaining chip, but not necessarily a debilitating blow against the law. Health and Human Services announced that it would be working with state officials to ensure that the exchanges were appropriately reclassified.
Meanwhile, none of the justices signaled an intent to retire. Ruth Bader Ginsburg did not announce retirement plans, signaling that she intended to stay on the court throughout the end of the Obama presidency. The conservative justices likewise did not announce retirement plans, with most analysts suggesting they were waiting for a Republican President.
Among its final orders of the year was a continued refusal to overturn the lower courts’ ruling that gay marriages go forward in Florida and other states. Analysts suggested the Court was unwilling to take on a battle where public opinion had so markedly shifted in favor of gay marriage.