Roberts: “Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them.”
Supreme Court passions and fervor run high at the end of each June, when the court releases major decisions from its spring term. This June is no different, with major decisions on marriage equality, health care reform, fair housing, and legislative redistricting, among others. Thursday morning, the court decided on both the Affordable Care Act and fair housing, leaving five cases for release Friday and Monday. These two decisions continue a leftward shift for the conservative Roberts Court noted by many, including the New York Times.
Millions will keep ACA health insurance subsidies
The Affordable Care Act stands. This morning the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed a suit that would have torpedoed yet another major provision of President Obama’s signature domestic accomplishment by removing health insurance subsidies for persons who did not use a state-based health insurance marketplace to buy individual coverage.
This case was based on text and drafting errors that, in a plain reading, seemed to indicate that persons could not receive subsidies for private insurance on the federal marketplace, HealthCare.gov, and that only persons using state-based exchanges could receive subsidies.
Chief Justice John Roberts, joined by Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan, focused on the phrase “established by the State,” and argued that it was ambiguous, and could mean both state and federal exchanges.
However, in context, Section 18031 of the Affordable Care Act authorizes the Secretary of Health and Human Services to create “such Exchange” if state governments refuse to do so, as 27 states did in political opposition to Obama. Roberts says this shows that both state and federal exchanges should operate in the same way, and if subsidies were not available on the federal exchange, there would be a fundamental difference in operations.
Justice Antonin Scalia, joined in his dissent by Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, argues that the interpretation of the majority cannot be found within the statute, and will damage future litigation and judicial procedures. He also suggested that the Court plays favorites with certain laws.
“We should start calling this law SCOTUScare,” he wrote.
However, Roberts’ clearest justification for the Court’s majority opinion can be found in one sentence: “Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them.”
The case is No. 14-114, King et al. v. Burwell, Secretary of Health and Human Services, et al.
Court upholds key anti-housing discrimination standard
The Supreme Court upheld the Fair Housing Act’s most important legal tool for attacking discriminatory housing practices in a 5 to 4 decision authored by Kennedy and joined by Ginsberg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan.
The Fair Housing Act of 1968 was passed soon after the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with the goal of reducing severe racial segregation that forced people of color into low-value urban areas while white people lived in suburbs surrounding city centers.
The key tool by non-governmental stakeholders to force the Department of Housing and Urban Development to distribute fair housing tax credits fairly is the “disparate impact claim,” which allows groups like the case’s respondent The Inclusive Communities Project to argue that the government isn’t meeting its responsibility to reduce discrimination even if it is not actively discriminating against certain groups.
The Texas Department of Housing and Community Development sued ICP arguing that “disparate impact” claims were unconstitutional.
Kennedy wrote that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 “authorize disparate impact claims” because the laws address outcomes resultant from government or private action, and not just the discriminatory intent of persons or institutions making such decisions.
Alito, joined in dissent by Roberts, Scalia, and Thomas, argues that “Congress did not authorize any of this.” Thomas also argued that the Griggs case upon which this decision is largely based is not valid precedent in a separate dissent.
The Court’s opinion argues that disparate impact claims are essential to preventing based on subconscious biases or covert discrimination. However, Kennedy also wrote that lower courts should avoid expansive interpretations of the provision to prevent abuse.
The case is No. 13-1371, Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs et al. v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. et al.
Five cases remain this term, including national marriage equality
The Court has extended the end of its term to Monday, and major decisions on death penalty procedures, legislative redistricting by independent commission, and marriage equality remain on the docket. I think the Court added a Monday decision date for the Obergefell v. Hodges marriage equality decision, and that Kennedy is trying to get the largest majority possible.
Check back here tomorrow morning for any updates.
Zac Bears can reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. (Photo in public domain courtesy of Daderot/Wikimedia Commons)