Key Moments From Oral Arguments Bode Well For The Affordable Care Act
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in King v. Burwell today, the latest partisan threat to the Affordable Care Act that threatens to strip subsidies away from millions of Americans in more than three dozen states. While the arguments presented by the lawyers and the questioning from the Justices certainly don’t give us the answer to how the case will turn out, they do provide an early indication of how the Justices may be leaning in their decision. With that in mind, we wanted to highlight three key points from the oral arguments today that could indicate that the subsidies for millions of Americans — and by extension Obamacare as a whole — will be safe when the ruling is handed down in June. For more in-depth analysis be sure to read Think Progress Justice editor Ian Millhiser’s complete analysis.
1. Justice Anthony Kennedy was concerned about what the consequences of a ruling for the challengers would mean. At one point during the arguments, Kennedy, always a potential swing Justice, acknowledged the reality that states would face if tax credits are cut off in states with federally run exchanges: premiums would spike, healthy people would drop out of the marketplace, and a so-called “death spiral” of higher premiums for fewer, sicker customers would ensue. An interpretation of the law that forces states to choose between setting up their own exchanges and eliminated tax credits raises “a serious constitutional problem,” Kennedy said.
2. The Justices got the challengers to admit that context matters. It may seem obvious that context matters — but this is actually somehow a critical debate in a legal argument where the challengers case rests on reading a single clause in place of the clear meaning of the entire law. After a nifty hypothetical from Justice Kagan, Michael Carvin, the attorney for the challengers, responded to “implore” the Justices to make their decision taking into account “the context of the Act as a whole.””
3. For any indication of momentum outside the courtroom, look no farther than right outside the Supreme Court steps. Hundreds of ACA supporters turned out to rally in support of the law and urging the court to protect health care for millions of Americans; meanwhile, just a handful of opponents thought it important enough to show up. The Washington Post writes, “If good organization could win a legal debate, supporters of the Affordable Care Act would triumph.”
Take a look at some of the best signs from the rally:
And if that’s not enough, check out the spate of editorials in support of the law from The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Tampa Bay Times, Kansas City Star, Dallas Morning News, Knoxville New Sentinel … (shall we go on? Yes we shall) … Albany Times Union, Orlando Sentinel, Bangor Daily News, and the Toledo Blade.
BOTTOM LINE: We’ve known from the beginning that this challenge to the Affordable Care Act is a politically-motivated, legally weak attack from those trying to use the Court to do what they have been unable to do in Congress or at the ballot box: repeal the Affordable Care Act. After today’s oral arguments, we hope the Justices will see that as well and make a decision that upholds the law, and doesn’t savage the reputation of the court. Momentum is with us.