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Roberts fought back against Scalia in sharply worded footnotes

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(Bloomberg Politics) — From the moment Chief Justice Roberts’ majority opinion on the King v. Burwell case was published, the justice’s clout with conservatives went into free fall. As Bloomberg reported, conservatives have declared him a cautionary tale in the dangers of failing to nominate the right judges (Roberts was nominated by President Bush). While he likely won’t respond to his conservative critics, his footnote responses to Justice Antonin Scalia’s scathing dissent offer a glimpse of how he would defend himself.

See also: King v. Burwell: The opinion, with interesting parts highlighted

While it was Roberts who wrote the court’s opinion upholding the ability of the exchanges to offer Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) premium subsidy tax credits, Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent was the more interesting read. In 21 pages, Scalia calls the reasoning of the six justices who ruled in favor the government “pure applesauce,” and asks several rhetorical question to emphasize his disagreement.

Such as: “Who would ever have dreamt that ‘exchanges established by the state’ means ‘exchanges established by the state or the federal government’?”

But some of Scalia’s questions do get responses. In the footnotes of the court’s main opinion, Roberts references “the dissent” several times to counter Scalia’s arguments.

In one section of the majority argument, Roberts writes that PPACA calls for states to create an exchange, and that the secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) should establish “‘such exchange,’” implying that the state-run exchanges and the federal exchange “should be the same.” In footnote 2 he writes that Scalia disagrees.

Specifically, he sees an “error in this reasoning.” (In the following passage, “it” refers to the court.)

Roberts’ responded:

Later, having established the ambiguity of the phrase “established by the state,” Roberts writes that “we must turn to the broader structure of the act to determine the meaning” of section of [PPACA] related to subsidies. Because the petitioners’ interpretation of the law—that subsidies from the federal exchange aren’t legal—would destabilize the insurance market, the court was compelled to reject it. Again, Scalia was not having this.

“Who would ever have dreamt that ‘exchanges established by the state’ means ‘exchanges established by the state or the federal government’?” Chief Justice Roberts, for one. Scalia writes that the court’s interpretation “causes the phrase to have no effect whatever,” (at one point he writes “Words no longer have meaning if an exchange that is not established by a state is ‘established by the state’”) and goes on to list seven other instances where the phrase “established by the state” appears.

In footnote three, Roberts writes that “a statutory term may mean different things in different places … Because the other provisions cited by the dissent are not at issue here, we do not address them.”

While Scalia managed to introduce the country to innovative insults like “pure applesauce” and “jiggery-pokery,”

See also: The 8 best lines from the huge PPACA ruling, from applesauce to jiggery-pokery

Roberts did dispense his own brand of Scalia-level snark. At one point the Chief Justice writes that it’s “implausible” that Congress meant for subsidies not to be available to the state, especially since that would lead to premiums rising inside and outside of the federal exchange. For this, he cites Scalia’s dissent in NFIB v. Sebelius, in which the court upheld the health care law’s individual mandate.


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