Justice Antonin Scalia became utterly disgusted by his fellow Justices when they refused to deny healthcare coverage a Texas woman who lost her husband to cancer and her oldest son in a motor vehicle collision. So upset Scalia accused his fellow justices of “interpretive jiggery-pokery.” He added that the Affordable Care Act should no longer be referred to as “Obamacare”, but “SCOTUScare.”
What was the issue before the United States Supreme Court, and why was the decision a huge victory for those needing healthcare, and a huge defeat for the GOP and corporate elitists?
Five years ago, Claudette Newsome, who lives in Houston, Texas, lost her husband to cancer. Two years later, her oldest son was killed by a motorist. To add insult to injury, the medical bills wiped out her finances, and like millions of others with medical debt, Ms. Newsome was forced into bankruptcy. As a self-employed individual, health insurance was not an affordable option – until the Affordable Care Act.
Claudette’s health insurance was in jeopardy. Texas is one of the states that has resisted participation in the federal marketplace and Medicaid expansion. A lawsuit before the Supreme Court, King v. Burwell, would have allowed the Lone Star State to throw its citizens to the “mercy” of the free market when it came to their health care, had the defendants prevailed. Many would again face bankruptcy and even death for no other reason than inability to pay.
Today, Claudette and others like her got some extremely happy news. In a 6 to 3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs – meaning that six million people in 34 states relying on federal subsidies will continue to enjoy the benefits of subsidized health care under the ACA. In the majority opinion, Chief Justice Roberts acknowledged that parts of the law were “ambiguous” and contained examples of “inartful drafting.” Nonetheless, he agreed that “we must turn to the broader structure of the Act to determine the meaning.” In other words, Roberts and the majority believe that the law’s intent is more important than its wording. He added: “Whether those credits are available on Federal Exchanges is thus a question of deep ‘economic and political significance’ that is central to this statutory scheme.”
Meanwhile, other Justices are stewing in their own juices. Among them, right-wing corporatist judge Antonin Scalia. Writing for the dissent, Scalia accused his fellow justices of “interpretive jiggery-pokery.” Scalia’s issue is one line in the legislation that was the cause of action in this case. The letter of the law refers to exchanges “established by the State.” It is admittedly vague; the word “State” can refer to any organized political unit, including the Federal government. The majority has chosen the broader definition, while Scalia defines it narrowly. In the minority opinion, Scalia writes:
The Court holds that when the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act says ‘Exchange established by the State’ it means ‘Exchange established by the State or the Federal Government.’ That is of course quite absurd.
It’s not over. Predictably, Republicans are frothing at the mouth like rabid dogs over what GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee calls an “out-of-control act of judiciary tyranny.” No doubt, corporatist right-wing attacks on the ACA will continue.
In the meantime however, six million people will be resting easier tonight, knowing that should the worst happen, they can still access medical services without losing everything.