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Published On: Thu, Mar 5th, 2015

John Roberts key in Supreme Court ruling on Obamacare subsidies

Supreme Court justices split along “ideological lines” Wednesday in a showdown in the latest legal battle over the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, leaving John Roberts with the key vote.

After 1 hour and 25 minutes of debate on whether millions of Americans who receive tax subsidies to buy health insurance are doing so illegally.

According to The Washington Post, Justice Kennedy told Washington lawyer Michael A. Carvin that the challengers’ reading of the law — which he characterized as telling the states to “create your own exchange, or we’ll send your insurance market into a death spiral” — is the kind of coercive pressure the federal government is not allowed to apply.

Obamacare puts Justice Roberts back in the spotlight   photo/ Donkey hotey

Obamacare puts Justice Roberts back in the spotlight photo/ Donkey hotey

“Perhaps you will prevail in the plain words of the statute, [but] there’s a serious constitutional problem if we adopt your argument,” Kennedy said.

The challengers say a straightforward reading of the law means the credits are available only for those who buy insurance on marketplaces, called exchanges, that are “established by the State,” rather than on a federal marketplace.

The subsidies are a linchpin in the program to require Americans to buy health insurance. A ruling against the administration would have adverse consequences for an estimated 7.5 million Americans who now receive subsidies in the 34 states where authorities have declined to establish their own exchanges.

Justice Elena Kagan told Carvin, would mean Congress authorized the establishment of federal exchanges “in which there will be no customers and, in fact, there will be no products.”

“We are interpreting a statute generally to make it make sense as a whole, right? We look at the whole text. We don’t look at four words. We . . . try to make everything harmonious with everything else.”

Donald B. Verrilli Jr., representing the Obama administration, said the law meant to provide states with flexibility and avoid “death spirals” in insurance markets, which could occur if not enough healthy individuals are enrolled to make the system financially viable. The challengers’ reading of the law, he said, would put coverage beyond the reach of many.

“It revokes the promise of affordable care for millions of Americans,” Verrilli said. “That cannot be the statute that Congress intended.”

“Of course it could be,” responded Justice Antonin Scalia. “I mean it may not be the statute they intended. The question is whether it’s the statute that they wrote.”

Scalia and fellow conservative Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. were the most challenging of Verrilli. Scalia said it was not up to the court to “twist the words” of a law to make it fit what the administration said Congress intended.

Scalia said lawmakers could fix the problem if they thought the court had misinterpreted their intent.

“You really think Congress is just going to sit there while — while all of these disastrous consequences ensue?” Scalia asked.

The Post has great coverage of the exchanges during the debate – more here

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About the Author

- Writer and Co-Founder of The Global Dispatch, Brandon has been covering news, offering commentary for years, beginning professionally in 2003 on Crazed Fanboy before expanding into other blogs and sites. Appearing on several radio shows, Brandon has hosted Dispatch Radio, written his first novel (The Rise of the Templar) and completed the three years Global University program in Ministerial Studies to be a pastor. To Contact Brandon email [email protected] ATTN: BRANDON

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