March 4 was an important date for everyone connected with King v. Burwell, which is practically the entire nation. People with subsidized health insurance are waiting with baited breath for the decision that could take away subsidies that make their health insurance affordable. Republicans are leaving no stone unturned to turn the tables in their favor and the Obama administration is bracing up for what could be an acid test for the workings of the law. On March 4, the Supreme Court heard the arguments from both sides on the King vs. Burwell case, and the Court will be meeting again soon to continue further.
The argument presentation on March 4 saw a lot of action around interpretation of the law, the context of those fateful 6 words, and the disposition of participating Supreme Court judges on the presented issues. Let’s take a look at the 4 important things to know after the verbal argument round of King v. Burwell.
- The primary theme of the arguments was that of federalism and unlawful coercion of states. Justice Anthony Kennedy, considered the strongest federal favoring judge on the panel, was all about the impact this case will have on the subsidies available to millions of Americans. Justice Anthony Kennedy’s primary concern was whether the scrapping of crucial subsidies to millions of Americans on the basis of a misconstrued, misinterpreted phrase in the law functioned as an unlawful, unconstitutional coercion on States. In simpler words, Kennedy felt that it would be unconstitutional for the Congress to put this pressure on States, in turn making them lose their health insurance subsidies, when other better means of handling those six words are present.
- Context and understanding of the law as a unit was the prime theme for the State. The Defendants cited that the Court needs to view the law as a whole to understand the overall program and direction of the law while ruling on the case. Justice Elena Kegan used hypotheticals to break the case and cite that the text in question has a context, and to establish and use that context, granular understanding of the whole law is essential.
- In the war over context and understanding of the law, Justice Antonio Scalia and Justice Samuel Alito were completely opposed to a unified view of the law. Justice Scalia wanted to view the contested statement in absolute isolation, without corrupting it with the working of the remaining law. Similarly, Justice Alito was of the opinion that the law still works without federal subsidies to the states without exchanges, and the statute will still make sense without those subsidies. Both the Justices wanted to move the context to only those four words in isolation, without taking into account what they mean in reference to the whole law.
The panel of judges will battle on the lines of context, and by the looks of it, the conservative judges might decide to side with the government on this. It will be mostly about avoiding the chasm that will open up if the Court kills the subsidies. For now, it seems that the scales are slightly tilted in favor of the Obama administration.