Duke Faculty On Supreme Court's Health Care Ruling

'A masterpiece of legal craft,' says law professor Neil Siegel

US Supreme Court Rules on Health Care Act

Duke constitutional scholar Neil Siegel called Thursday's Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act "a masterpiece of legal craft." 

The 6-3 decision upholds the part of the Affordable Care Act that that allows tax credits for people in states that that did not set up their own exchange. States had the option to build their own health care marketplaces or use one operated by the federal government. Thirty-four states opted for the federal program.

Plaintiffs in the case argued that the federal government can't subsidize insurance in states that chose the federal system over creating their own system. If they had won, subsidies would have ended for more than six million recipients, CNN reported.

"The majority opinion of Chief Justice John Roberts in King v. Burwell, which was joined by a super-majority coalition of justices of diverse ideologies, is a masterpiece of legal craft, good sense and fidelity to law at a time when political polarization threatens to spill over into the judiciary," said Siegel, a constitutional law scholar at Duke's School of Law. "The court has done the nation, and itself, a great service."

Donald Taylor, an associate professor of public policy in the Sanford School of Public Policy, wrote in his blog that the case did not depend on the so-called "Chevron doctrine" that gives the executive branch discretion when there is ambiguity in how to read a law.

Instead, Taylor wrote, the majority of the justices said that because the ability of people to afford health insurance "is such a fundamental part of the law, the plainest reading of a narrow section of the law couldn’t be read to mean that tax credits are not available in all states, regardless of the type of exchange through which they get coverage."

"This is a complete victory for the Obama administration," Taylor wrote.