Tags: Obamacare | healthcare tax subsidies | Halbig v. Burwell | DC Appeals Court

Report: Obamacare Ruling Shows Power of Obama's Judicial Picks

Friday, 05 Sep 2014 09:33 AM

A federal appeals court has thrown out a ruling on Obamacare tax subsidies by a Republican–controlled panel, leading to claims that the judicial choices of President Barack Obama are starting to have a political impact.

The three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia Circuit had struck down the subsidies for millions of Americans on federally run healthcare exchanges, a key element of the health insurance overhaul.

But the full contingent of judges on the court, after reviewing its panel’s ruling, decided to reconsider the case and have scheduled a new hearing for December, which opens the door for a major legal victory by the Obama administration and reduces the chances of the case being heard by the Supreme Court.

The Halbig v. Burwell suit argues that according to the text of the healthcare act, subsidies should only be available in states that set up new insurance exchanges. But 36 states joined the federal exchange HealthCare.gov, meaning that the 5 million people who received subsidies in that exchange will no longer get them.

Without the subsidies, health insurance under Obamacare would be too costly to millions of Americans, leading to a potential "death spiral" that would end with the 2010 healthcare act crashing and burning, according to Vox.

Despite the apparently poorly written legislative language, the government claims that the text of the law simply does not limit the subsidies to state-run exchanges.

By rehearing the case, the appeals court "illustrated what liberals have yearned for and conservatives have feared for six years: President Obama's judges are having an impact," according to USA Today columnist Richard Wolf.

"For decades a bastion of conservative jurists appointed by Republican presidents, the appeals court – steppingstone to the Supreme Court for many a justice – is undergoing a political metamorphosis that could affect everything from workplace rules to the air we breathe.

"It took nearly five years for Obama and Senate Democrats to overcome Republicans' opposition to his most controversial nominees. In the end, they had to change the chamber's rules to prevent filibusters by a minority of senators.

"That cleared the way for Obama to fill out the 11-member court late last year. As a result, the nation's second-most powerful court now has seven judges named by Democratic presidents and four named by Republicans."

Although the Senate unanimously confirmed Obama's nominee Sri Srinivasan last year, the president's three other picks, Patricia Millett, Nina Pillard and Robert Wilkins, were only confirmed, despite GOP opposition, because of the rules change.

"Since they (Obama’s nominees) became active participants in the court's cases, the tables have turned on the court's conservatives," Wolf said. "In the past, three-judge panels with judges named only by Republican presidents were common; now, the reverse is true."

Wolf pointed out that liberal and conservative advocates who monitor federal courts believe that the appeals court is now trending to the left.

"The shift will happen, but due to the nature of the cases that the D.C. Circuit handles, I don't think it's going to come in revolutionary strokes," Ian Millhiser, a constitutional policy analyst at the liberal Center for American Progress Action Fund, told USA Today.

"What you were looking at before these appointees came on was a court that was really far out of the mainstream," said Michelle Schwartz, a director at the liberal Alliance for Justice. "Now you've got a more balanced court."

And Carrie Severino, of the conservative Judicial Crisis Network, told USA Today, "I don't think anyone has any doubt that those four judges are liberal, and that it will eventually be clear from their decisions on the court as they accrue more time on the bench."


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A federal appeals court has thrown out a ruling on Obamacare tax subsidies by a Republican-controlled panel, leading to claims that the judicial choices of President Obama are starting to have a political impact.
Obamacare, healthcare tax subsidies, Halbig v. Burwell, DC Appeals Court
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2014-33-05
Friday, 05 Sep 2014 09:33 AM
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