The Supreme Court Upheld The Affordable Care Act And The Fair Housing Act
It is a good day in America. This morning, in a ringing endorsement of the Affordable Care Act and the rule of law, the Supreme Court voted 6-3 in King v. Burwell to uphold health care subsidies. The Court did not just uphold subsidies, it strongly defended the law, sending a message that serious legal threats to the case are over. Millions of people can rest easy, knowing they will still have access to quality, affordable health insurance.
Chief Justice Roberts penned the opinion, and in it he granted a sweeping victory for supporters of the law and a crushing blow to its conservative opponents. The opinion reads: “In a democracy, the power to make the law rests with those chosen by the people. Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them. If at all possible, we must interpret the Act in a way that is consistent with the former, and avoids the latter.”
What’s most noteworthy about the opinion is how it was written. The Court did not employ the Chevron doctrine, which calls for the justices to defer to the relevant agency if a statute is ambiguous. Instead, the Court resolved the ambiguity of the law itself ruling that the Chevron deference does not apply to questions of “deep economic and political significance.” Because the Court did not employ the Chevron doctrine, the next presidential administration will not be able to reinterpret the law to strip away tax subsidies. In other words, if Congressional Republicans want to gut the Affordable Care Act, they are going to have to do it themselves, without the help of the Court. That’s a big deal.
Justice Scalia wrote the dissent, expressing his distaste for the Affordable Care Act colorfully. With the majority opinion upholding the law, “words no longer have meaning,” wrote Scalia. “We should start calling this law SCOTUScare.”
Justice Scalia, you can call it whatever you want. We will call it health care in America.
Because the Supreme Court did the right thing, the 16.4 million people that have gained insurance under the ACA can rest easy. The 8.7 million enrollees receiving tax credits do not have to worry about their insurance being made unaffordable. The 129 million people with pre-existing conditions no longer have to worry about losing coverage or facing significant premium increases. Women will not be discriminated against just for being women, and growth of health care costs can continue to slow.
While most of today’s attention has been on King v. Burwell, the Court ruled on another significant case this morning that should not be overlooked. In a surprising 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that housing policies could be deemed discriminatory based on “disparate impact.” In other words, discrimination can be proven by showing that the impact of a housing policy is discriminatory even if the discrimination was not intended. Even unintentional housing discrimination denies families access to the social, economic, and health benefits that come along with appropriate housing opportunities. And today, the Court recognized decades of long-standing precendent in ensuring the survival of an important tool to combat discrimination. For more details about this case, read this explanation from ThinkProgress.
BOTTOM LINE: After much wasted time and energy, the Supreme Court has rejected the second partisan attempt to undermine the Affordable Care Act and helped solidify the future of health care in America. And with the fair housing ruling, the Court saved an important statute and acknowledged the ongoing fight to end discrimination. While both of these landmark decisions were fantastic, we should also remember something else: a more reasonable court may not have accepted them in the first place.
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