Obamacare and the Language of Law

On Sept. 30, Judge Ronald A. White of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma delivered his decision in Pruitt v. Burwell, the third of four related cases to have received a judgment. The four cases challenge the IRS ruling that ObamaCare subsidies will be given to policyholders who’ve purchased health insurance in exchanges established by the federal government. Like the verdict in Halbig v. Burwell, Judge White found for the plaintiffs and against the IRS, and he vacated the IRS regulation pending appeal. The other case to have received a judgment is King v. Burwell, which found for the government. So we have a 2-1 split. The U.S. Supreme Court must eventually weigh in.

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Originalism and the Two Narratives of Halbig

Halbig v. Burwell, the ACA subsidies case, has two competing narratives.  In one version, it is an epic battle between textualism and contextualism.  The statute (says one side) clearly says subsidies are available only for insurance exchanges “established by [a] State” and the federal exchange is obviously not established by a state.  But (says the other side) surely Congress could not have intended a situation in which subsidies were not available on the federal exchange, so to make sense of the statute one should not read it narrowly but with regard to what makes the most sense of Congress’ intent.

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