Halbig, “Legislative Supremacy,” and the Boehner Law Suit

July 22nd, 2014

The gravamen of the complaint in Halbig, and the imminent Boehner lawsuit, is that the Administration unilaterally rewrote provisions of the Affordable Care Act that are clear, because they would generate results the Administration did not like, and Congress was in no position to fix the law.

The Court in Halbig rejected that, citing a presumption of “legislative supremacy.”

We reach this conclusion, frankly, with reluctance. At least until states that wish to can set up Exchanges, our ruling will likely have significant consequences both for the millions of individuals receiving tax credits through federal Exchanges and for health insurance markets more broadly. But, high as those stakes are, the principle of legislative supremacy that guides us is higher still. Within constitutional limits, Congress is supreme in matters of policy, and the consequence of that supremacy is that our duty when interpreting a statute is to ascertain the meaning of the words of the statute duly enacted through the formal legislative process. This limited role serves democratic interests by ensuring that policy is made by elected, politically accountable representatives, not by appointed, life-tenured judges. Thus, although our decision has major consequences, our role is quite limited: deciding whether the IRS Rule is a permissible reading of the ACA. Having concluded it is not, we reverse the district court and remand with instructions to grant summary judgment to appellants and vacate the IRS Rule.

Tea leaves.