Sabin Center Summer Intern & Rising 2L at Columbia Law School
On Thursday, June 25, the Affordable Care Act (ACA, also known as Obamacare) withstood another Supreme Court challenge in King v. Burwell. The case focused on a question of statutory interpretation to determine whether those who purchased insurance through federal exchange programs (instead of state-created exchanges) would remain eligible for federal subsidies. Three years ago when the Court considered a constitutional challenge to the ACA in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, Chief Justice Roberts cast the deciding vote to uphold the centerpiece legislation. This time around, the Chief Justice once again wrote the central opinion, one that could have far reaching effects well beyond health care and federal insurance exchanges.
One of the fundamental questions in King v. Burwell involved the oft-cited Chevron deference regime. The doctrine developed by the Supreme Court’s opinion Chevron v. NRDC imposes a two-step analysis for evaluating administrative agency interpretations of a statute that it administers. Under Chevron, the court first asks whether the language and intent of congress is clear. If Congress has not “addressed the precise question at issue”, the court will defer to the agency’s reasonable interpretation of the statute. Many speculated that the Supreme Court would apply the familiar Chevron deference to the ACA in King v. Burwell, perhaps finding ambiguity and deferring to the IRS’s (arguably) reasonable interpretation. The Court instead artfully sidestepped Chevron, holding that Chevron deference might not apply to cases of “deep economic and political significance,” especially if the delegation was not expressly made clear in the statute. Further, the Chief Justice noted that Congress would not have delegated a central health care policy issue to the IRS. Read more »