Obamacare wins in the Supreme Court


The decision in the case of King v Burwell has been announced – and Obamacare is here to stay (for now at least). In a 6-3 decision, the court decided in favour of Obamacare. At the heart of the argument was ‘exchanges’ where people could get health insurance. At issue in this case was “whether health-insurance subsidies are available for qualified individuals only if they purchase insurance through an exchange established by a state, not the federal government. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2015/03/04/the-supreme-court-has-heard-obamacare-challenge-arguments-heres-what-happens-next/)

The outcome is brilliant for A2 students of US politics.

Firstly, the six were the four ‘liberals’ joined by Roberts and Kennedy – great evidence for anyone looking to outline an argument of how ideology is not important. This is particularly true as John Roberts has take a lot of flack from the conservatives in the US for the decision (see – http://www.politico.com/story/2015/06/gop-conservatives-angry-supreme-court-chief-john-roberts-obamacare-119431.html?ml=po). He even took stern criticism from the dissenting opinion written by Scalia (http://dailysignal.com/2015/06/25/top-9-quotes-from-scalias-scathing-dissent-in-king-v-burwell/)!

Secondly, it is clear that ideology still has some role. Much of the criticism leveled at Roberts has been whether he is ‘drifting’ leftwards or if he is ‘as bad as Souter’. This is useful not only when discussing ideology but when discussing if justices have disappointed the presidents who appointed them. Roberts, being appointed by Bush, could have been expected to be a staunch conservative, however twice now he has voted to sustain Obamacare. This would be good evidence for the neutrality of the Court, interpreting each case individually and in line with the Constitution.

It is also a useful example when thinking about activism and restraint and the pros/cons of each of these. In this case, the ruling would meet a traditional definition of judicial activism, being that the justices have used their position to aid social good (being that more Americans than ever have healthcare insurance, even if 25% of Texas still doesn’t!). However, it is not a particularly controversial activism as they are simply upholding a law that was passed by Congress and signed by the President. Certainly, where the conservative justices had a chance to advance ‘conservative activism’ (i.e. using their position to roll back the state), they haven’t in this case.

Linked to this, one could argue that this is a defensible action of the court in a modern democracy – an unelected but powerful body is ripe for criticism however when the decision made is one that sticks by the two elected branches it could be argued that their unelected role is not controversial.

Finally, while some Republicans have vowed to continue their battle against the PPACA (Obamacare), it is worth remembering that only a Constitutional amendment can overturn a Supreme Court ruling. So even though the Republicans have both houses, the certainly do not have the 2/3rds required. Even if they did, it seems unlikely they would challenge this bill in this way. However Obamacare is far from safe and more challenges are fighting their way through the legal system. For now, however, Obamacare lives on.

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