Friday, June 26, 2015
But this decision will be more significant than I would have expected a decision for the government to be because of the argument offered up by the Chief Justice. Roberts could have tried to limit the effects of this decision by sticking to a set of fundamentally textual arguments about the meaning of the term “established by the state” in the context of the statute as a whole. The decision does offer such arguments, and Justice Roberts does what he can to minimize their incoherence, to contend with the fact that the words in question seem to have a fairly straightforward meaning, and to offer some responses to Justice Scalia’s devastating critique of the majority’s textual reasoning in his dissent.
But the Chief Justice didn’t leave it at that. He makes a much broader argument about the relationship between the vague, broadly stated aims and purposes of legislators and the role of judges interpreting the meaning of the particular laws those legislators then write. Roberts presses this point most firmly at the end of his decision, writing: “Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them. If at all possible, we must interpret the Act in a way that is consistent with the former, and avoids the latter.”
That takes care of the argument that Roberts joined the majority in order to write a narrower opinion, evidently.