In his new column in the New York Times, Will Baude explains that the Court can limit any relief afforded in King v. Burwell to the named plaintiffs:
But luckily the Constitution supplies a contingency plan, even if the administration doesn’t know it yet: If the administration loses in King, it can announce that it is complying with the Supreme Court’s judgment — but only with respect to the four plaintiffs who brought the suit.
This announcement would not defy a Supreme Court order, since the court has the formal power to order a remedy only for the four people actually before it. The administration would simply be refusing to extend the Supreme Court’s reasoning to the millions of people who, like the plaintiffs, may be eligible for tax credits but, unlike the plaintiffs, did not sue.
Will seems to suggest that lower courts have held that they have the authority to invalidate regulations beyond the parties at court, but he then promptly brushes aside these concerns:
There are legal wrinkles, of course. Lower courts have sometimes claimed legal authority to invalidate a regulation (which is at issue in this case) even for parties who aren’t before the court. And some employers might be able to bring lawsuits that would call their employees’ subsidies into question. But the administration has already raised legal defenses to those potential problems in other lawsuits and could press those defenses here, too.
With all respect, this is not correct. This exact same issue has already played out in the Halbig litigation as I discussed in this post last March. The D.C. Circuit has consistently held that striking down a regulation has a “nationwide” effect, and DOJ was not able to marshall any persuasive precedents to the contrary. I will quote from that post at length.
In a 28(J) letter submitted in the Halbig litigation a week before oral argument, the government has taken the position that because the case is not a class action, only the “named plaintiffs” can receive relief. In other words, even if the court finds that the government acted improperly in awarding subsidies outside the scope of the law, the court lacks jurisdiction to strike down the rule as applied to everyone. Stated simply, under the government’s theory, the court can’t strike down the rule at issue. Too many people benefit from Obamacare. Even if the government is acting illegally, those policies should remain in place. Read the 28(j) for yourself:
We respectfully submit a supplemental authority that bears on plaintiffs’ assertion, made for the first time in reply, that “[i]t does not matter that this ‘is not a class action’” and that the Court could extinguish the tax-credit claims of individuals who live in “states like Texas.” Pl. Reply 26. In Ortiz v. Fibreboard Corp., 527 U.S. 815 (1999), and prior decisions, the Supreme Court held that the protections for non-parties are grounded in Due Process. Even when (unlike here) a suit is a class action, “before an absent class member’s right of action [is] extinguishable due process require[s] that the member ‘receive notice plus an opportunity to be heard and participate in the litigation’” and “‘an opportunity to remove himself from the class.’” Id. at 848 (quoting Phillips Petroleum Co. v. Shutts, 472 U.S. 797, 812 (1985)). Moreover, there is a “constitutional requirement” that a “‘named plaintiff at all times adequately represent the interests of the absent class members.’” Id. at 848 n.24 (quoting Shutts, 472 U.S. at 812). Plaintiffs did not seek to represent a class, and their suit could not satisfy these constitutional requirements. For millions of people across the country, premium tax credits are not burdens to be avoided but federal benefits that they need to afford health insurance.
Counsel for Halbig shot back with a motion to strike, rejecting this surreal approach to standing, raised only for the first time only one week before oral arguments! A ruling that a regulation is invalid must apply “nationwide” for “plaintiffs and non-parties alike.”
This Court plainly can and should invalidate regulations that affect non- parties, without implicating Due Process concerns. The APA directs this Court to “set aside” unlawful agency action. 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A). See also Comcast Corp. v. FCC, 579 F.3d 1, 10 (D.C. Cir. 2009) (Randolph, J., concurring). And this Court has made clear that when it invalidates a regulation under the APA, such a ruling has “nationwide” effect, for “plaintiffs and non-parties alike.” Nat’l Mining Ass’n v. U.S. Army Corps of Eng’rs, 145 F.3d 1399, 1408-10 (D.C. Cir. 1998); see also Harmon v. Thornburgh, 878 F.2d 484, 495 n.21 (D.C. Cir. 1989) (“When a reviewing court determines that agency regulations are unlawful, the ordinary result is that the rules are vacated—not that their application to the individual petitioners is proscribed.”).
Further, Halbig was very, very skeptical that the government only just now discovered this “stale” precedent from 1999. They argue, outright, that the government is prepared to ignore the ruling, if the court were to find that the IRS rule is invalid.
Since it is inconceivable that the Government submitted this stale, irrelevant “supplemental” authority to shore up its argument about the justiciability of the employer plaintiffs’ claims (particularly given plaintiff Klemencic’s clear standing), the Government appears to be laying the groundwork to openly flout any decision by this Court invalidating the IRS Rule. Its view, apparently, is that even if this Court vacates the IRS Rule as contrary to the ACA, the Government may nonetheless freely continue to subsidize coverage for the “millions of people across the country” not parties to this litigation. (Notice at 1.) Indeed, because the Government contends that the Due Process Clause would be violated if non-parties were deprived of subsidies, it may believe that it is constitutionally required to continue to offer subsidies in the face of this Court’s invalidation of the IRS Rule.
Consequently, it is incumbent on the Government to now inform the Court and Appellants whether it will abide by this Court’s decision or, for the first time in history, continue to pursue an agency policy after this Court has ruled that the policy is unlawful and set it aside as ultra vires. Indeed, unless the Government affirmatively disavows its apparent intention to lawlessly flout this Court’s binding order invalidating the IRS Rule, the ordinary remedy of vacatur will not suffice, and injunctive relief will be required to enjoin the IRS from making available the subsidies ruled unlawful.
You get it? Even if the court finds that the government acted illegally, they will continue to act illegally. And the government seems to imply (but doesn’t say outright) that it would violate due process (!?) to suspend the subsidies to those receiving it!
Contrary to the Government’s last-minute contention, this standard APA practice obviously does not violate the Due Process Clause. If this Court vacates the IRS Rule as contrary to the ACA’s text, that eliminates the only legal basis for the IRS to distribute U.S. Treasury funds to subsidize those who purchase coverage on federally established Exchanges. Thus, vacating the IRS Rule precludes the Government from committing the ultra vires act of distributing Treasury funds that have not been authorized by Congress. So precluding lawless subsidies to those purchasing coverage on federal Exchanges obviously means those people cannot receive those subsidies, but it does not in any way bind them or deny them Due Process rights. Were it otherwise, the APA’s requirement to set aside regulations would be unconstitutional every time the rule affects non-parties (which is almost always true).
First, if the Government inexplicably believes that it has the authority (or, more absurdly, a constitutional duty) to continue to disburse subsidies for federal Exchanges in the face of this Court’s order vacating the IRS Rule, this means that invalidating the IRS Rule will not disable the Government from making subsidies available to anybody, including even Klemencic. Thus, mere vacatur of the IRS Rule would not remedy Klemencic’s injury, because so long as a subsidy is “allowable” to Klemencic, he is not exempt from the individual mandate penalty. 26 U.S.C. § 5000A(e)(1)(B)(ii). (See App. Br. 9-11.) An injunction clearly forbidding the Government from subsidizing coverage on HHS-established Exchanges would therefore be necessary to remedy Klemencic’s injury.
The due process clause immunizes the government from acting illegally? Is this some sort of Golderg v. Kelley-esque argument? They may want to check Matthews v. Edridge.
In short, this argument is contrary to a lot of precedent, and even the government could only must a last-ditch due process argument about why non-named plaintiffs are exempt. During argument, the D.C. Circuit Judges seemed hostile to this idea, with good reason. It is contrary to their caselaw.
In any event, while the government continued to raise this argument in its petition for rehearing en banc, it (thankfully) did not raise it in its Supreme Court brief, in much the same way the government is not contesting standing. (The D.C. Circuit deferred ruling on it). The government, and the plaintiffs, want the Court to resolve the issue before it. Kicking the can down the road will only delay the inevitable.