Obamacare in court again

Obamacare is a comprehensive assault on the liberty and prosperity of the American people raising a panoply of constitutional and legal issues. Two of them get another round in court this week.

The Hobby Lobby case addresses one element of the law’s assault on religious liberty. We’ve come to a pretty pass. Not even the Little Sisters of the Poor are safe. Who would have thought it possible? A free people should be aware of liberals bearing gifts.

Today the Hobby Lobby case comes before the Supreme Court for oral argument. At NRO, Sarah Torre has “A guide to everything you need to know about the fight for religious freedom at the Supreme Court” and Rich Lowry has a good companion column, “The war on Hobby Lobby.”

The second case challenges the legality of a crucial IRS rule authorizing tax credits for the purchase of health insurance on federally run health care exchanges. This one has the potential to throw a monkey wrench of major proportions into Obamcare. Plaintiffs allege that the IRS rule contravenes the plain text of the Obamacare because the statute only authorizes tax credits (and subsidies) for the purchase of insurance in an exchange “established by a state” under Section 1311 of the law. Federal exchanges are neither “established by a state” nor authorized by Section 1311.

Paul Mirengoff noted the case when it was pending before D.C. Federal District Judge Paul Friedman here with a link to Jonathan Adler’s summary here. Judge Friedman subsequently upheld the blatantly lawless IRS rule in an opinion posted here.

At Forbes, Michael Cannon has a good column assessing Judge Friedman’s opinion with classic illustrations by John Tenniel of Judge Friedman’s method of statutory construction. Hint: Lewis Carroll holds the key.

Today the case arrives for argument at the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. The Wall Street Journal previewed the oral argument in yesterday’s editorial “Obamacare’s latest legal challenge.”

The Journal editorial addresses applicable rules of statutory construction. It observes that Congress did not intend have Obamacare subsidies flow through the federal Obamacare exchange when states failed to establish their own exchanges. The editorial states, however, that “legislative intent is irrelevant in matters of statutory interpretation. All that matters is the plain meaning of the words of the law.”

This is simply wrong. The applicable rules of statutory construction are complicated by the administrative context in which the issue arises, but rules of statutory construction are various, conflicting and manipulable. Georgetown University’s Legal Writing Center has posted a handy “Guide to Reading, Interpreting and Applying Statutes.”

The Supreme Court provides the clearest example of how a court can interpret a law in direct conflict with its plain language. In this case — United Steelworkers v. Weber — the Supreme Court might have been addressing the clearest statutory language Congress ever committed to paper: the provisions of §§ 703(a) and(d) of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that made it unlawful to “discriminate…because of…race” in hiring and in the selection of apprentices for training programs.

In Weber, the Court held that discrimination because of race was A-okay, relying on this memorable rule of construction: “It is a familiar rule, that a thing may be within the letter of the statute and yet not within the statute, because not within its spirit, nor within the intention of its makers.” When it comes to the courts’ divination of the spirit of the law, you never know.

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