John Roberts Chides Congress On Obamacare’s ‘Inartful Drafting’

U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts gives the commencement address on Friday, May 24, 2013, at LaLumiere School in LaPorte, Ind. Roberts, a 1973 graduate of the school, told the graduating class that persis... U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts gives the commencement address on Friday, May 24, 2013, at LaLumiere School in LaPorte, Ind. Roberts, a 1973 graduate of the school, told the graduating class that persistence was more important than intelligence, education and talent, because many people with those traits fail. (AP Photo/South Bend Tribune, James Brosher) MORE LESS
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Chief Justice John Roberts may have upheld a crucial part of Obamacare in King v. Burwell, but not without a few choice words for Congress, accusing it of “inartful drafting” in crafting the law.

“The Affordable Care Act contains more than a few examples of inartful drafting,” Roberts wrote in his majority opinion for King v. Burwell. “Several features of the Act’s passage contributed to that unfortunate reality. Congress wrote key parts of the Act behind closed doors, rather than through ‘the traditional legislative process.'”

Roberts went on to knock lawmakers for using the so-called reconciliation process to pass the Affordable Care Act, which he describes as a “complicated budgetary procedure,” as it “limited opportunities for debate and amendment, and bypassed the Senate’s normal 60-vote filibuster requirement.”

“As a result, the Act does not reflect the type of care and deliberation that one might expect of such significant legislation,” Roberts wrote in the opinion.

He also quoted the characterization made by Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter in 1947 of a cartoon “in which a senator tells his colleagues ‘I admit this new bill is too complicated to understand. We’ll just have to pass it to find out what it means.’”

While that cartoon is decades-old, Roberts may also have been referencing a remark made in 2010 by then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi about the Affordable Care Act that “we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.”

Nevertheless, Roberts and the five justices who joined him ruled that in the context of the larger law, subsidies are available to consumers in states where the federal government operates the health care insurance exchanges.

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  1. Bullshit.

  2. He has a point about some of the seeming self-contradictory and ambiguous wording within the law as it is written. Don’t get me wrong, I support the law and agree with the court’s decision. But sometimes I wonder who actually puts the pen to paper in the final draft, and where are the legal editors that should be going over every piece of legislation with a fine tooth comb to avoid ambiguity and possible challenges to huge-impact legislation like the challenge of King v. Burwell.

    In the end, Roberts got it right in the following summary of his opinion:

    "In a democracy, the power to make the law rests with those chosen by the people. Our role is more confined—“to say what the law is.” That is easier in some cases than in others. But in every case we must respect the role of the Legislature, and take care not to undo what it has done. A fair reading of legislation demands a fair understanding of the legislative plan.

    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."

  3. Except here is the context of what Nancy Pelosi said

    Pelosi: People won’t appreciate reform until it passes

    • Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday that people won’t appreciate how
      great the Democrat’s health plan is until after it passes. “You’ve
      heard about the controversies, the process about the bill…but I don’t
      know if you’ve heard that it is legislation for the future – not just
      about health care for America, but about a healthier America,” she
      told the National Association of Counties annual legislative
      conference, which has drawn about 2,000 local officials to
      Washington. “But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out
      what is in it – away from the fog of the controversy.”

  4. It’s not clear what in particular you’re pointing to, but certainly CJ Roberts’ shots at Congress are at the very least historically consistent (SCOTUS, particularly when the majority speaks thru the current CJ, have done this many many times over the 2 centuries plus of the existence of the constitutional framework and its institutions.), very probably intended to work as a palliative sop to extremist cancers currently buggering around with post Teddy Roosevelt establishment Republican-style conservatism, probably also is intended to gloss over the fact that at least 4 members of the Court agreed to hear this goofy challenge and so one of or both the CJ and Kennedy require some bit of figleaf to point to as theoretically covering up his (or their) exposed nasties, and to some extent is merited (as it would be in just about every piece of Rube Goldbergian nightmare period contrivance that’s come out of Congress for over 30 years now and running).

  5. I’m not surprised at the vote nor the comments. Had the Supremes accepted one sentence in 90+ pages as the controlling feature, havoc would have ensued. Lots of Federal laws also have numerous instances of poor, contradictory, nonsensical and ambiguous sentences, paragraphs et al. Image all the laws that could be challenged in the same vein if one took only the literal meaning of one passage in an entire law.

    Still, I wonder what fat Tony would have said if some other aspect of the ACA had been challenged re cherry-picking one single sentence? Bet it would have been the same, exposing again his right-wing bias regardless of the what the law said!

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