To Save the ACA, the Supreme Court Will Have to Rewrite It. Again.

July 22nd, 2014

Judge Griffith’s opinion for the D.C. Circuit boiled down to one point–he was not willing to rewrite the ACA to save it.

The point is that we don’t know, and in asking us to ignore the best evidence of Congress’s intent—the text of section 36B—in favor of assumptions about the risks that Congress would or would not tolerate—assumptions doubtlessly influenced by hindsight—the government and dissent in effect urge us to substitute our judgment for Congress’s. We refuse. As the Supreme Court explained just this term, “an agency may not rewrite clear statutory terms to suit its own sense of how the statute should operate.” UARG, 134 S. Ct. at 2446. And neither may we. “The role of th[e] [c]ourt is to apply the statute as it is written—even if we think some other approach might ‘accor[d] with good policy.’” Burrage v. United States, 134 S. Ct. 881, 892 (2014) (quoting Comm’r v. Lundy, 516 U.S. 235, 252 (1996)) (third alteration in original); see also Lewis v. City of Chicago, 560 U.S. 205, 217 (2010) (“[I]t is not our task to assess the consequences of each approach [to interpreting a statute] and adopt the one that produces the least mischief. Our charge is to give effect to the law Congress enacted.”); United States v. Locke, 471 U.S. 84, 95 (1985) (“[T]he fact that Congress might have acted with greater clarity or foresight does not give courts a carte blanche to redraft statutes in an effort to achieve that which Congress is perceived to have failed to do.”).

This has to be a not-too-veiled note to the other Court down Constitution Ave. Then again, rewrite the statute is exactly what Chief Justice Roberts did, twice. First, to treat the mandate as a tax, and second to totally rework the Medicaid expansion. Only time will tell if the Court is willing to rewrite the ACA one more time. Ditto for the other lingering bomb, Sissell, and the origination clause challenge.

A related issue–will the Court (Roberts) be willing to “gut” the ACA with adverse consequences to millions. As I noted many times during my talk: John Roberts wasn’t willing to kill Obamacare in 2012 when no one was relying on it. Why would he do so in 2015 when millions are relying on it: For this, perhaps Judge Griffith will be right, or wrong:

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.