Defund At All Costs

The latest spurious judicial decision in favor of defunding the Affordable Care Act is in.

Another Republican Judge Tries To Kill The Affordable Care Act

On Tuesday, Oklahoma federal judge Ronald A. White became the latest Republican judge to side with the most recent conservative legal attack on the Affordable Care Act, ruling against the law in Pruitt v. Burwell.

The argument that conservatives are putting forward is a doozy. It relies on an overt misreading of a drafting error in the text of the law to argue that individuals residing in states with federally-facilitated marketplaces are not eligible to receive insurance premium tax credits. (The law allows for states to set up their own exchanges, but if they choose not to, the federal government is charged with doing so on behalf of the state.) Without these tax credits, the ACA would essentially be defunded in most states. This would fulfill the conservative goal of taking away access to affordable health coverage for millions of Americans.

To date, nine federal judges have considered this question of whether much of the law should be defunded. Only three — all of whom are Republicans — have agreed that it should be. The first two, who sit on the D.C Circuit Court, ruled against the law in the case Halbig v. Burwell. These judges were clearly biased against the law; one of them, Judge Raymond Randolph, even called the launch of the law “an unmitigated disaster” (despite 8 million people signing up). Their ruling in Halbig was vacated when the full D.C. Circuit Court agreed to conduct an “en banc” re-hearing of the case. That larger decision is expected to be more in line with the unanimous ruling by the 4th Circuit Court in favor of the law.

White, in today’s Pruitt decision, appears to have used some pretty flawed legal reasoning. ThinkProgress Justice Editor Ian Millhiser explains (and goes into greater detail here):

White’s opinion does not at any point acknowledge the legal standard that applies when a statute contains language that is at odds with other provisions of the law. As the Supreme Court explained in 2007, “a reviewing court should not confine itself to examining a particular statutory provision in isolation” as the “meaning—or ambiguity—of certain words or phrases may only become evident when placed in context.” White, by contrast, relies entirely a passage that supports the plaintiffs’ arguments while ignoring the much more prevalent statutory language that supports the government’s argument.

Millhiser also catches Judge White cherry-picking quotations to defend his ruling. Not the biggest vote of confidence that the judge is simply assessing the law on its merits.

BOTTOM LINE: Today brought the latest court case in which a Republican judge used spurious legal reasoning to defund the Affordable Care Act. Most importantly, today’s decision have no immediate impact on people’s ability to use premium tax credits to lower the cost of care. Down the road, when the courts resolve their disagreement — whether in the full DC Circuit Court, or in the Supreme Court — we expect that common sense and decades of legal precedent will prevail.

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