King v. Burwell and the Triumph of Selective Contextualism
Cato Supreme Court Review (2014-2015 Forthcoming)
44 Pages Posted: 15 Aug 2015 Last revised: 11 Sep 2015
Date Written: August 13, 2015
King v. Burwell presented the question of whether the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (ACA) authorizes the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to issue tax credits for the purchase of health insurance through Exchanges established by the federal government. The King plaintiffs alleged an IRS rule purporting to authorize tax credits in federal Exchanges was unlawful because the text of the ACA expressly authorizes tax credits only in Exchanges “established by the State.” The Supreme Court conceded the plain meaning of the operative text, and that Congress defined “State” to exclude the federal government. The Court nevertheless disagreed with the plaintiffs, explaining that “the context and structure of the Act compel us to depart from what would otherwise be the most natural reading of the pertinent statutory phrase.” The Court reached its conclusion by disregarding portions of the ACA’s text and considering only selected elements of the ACA’s structure, context, and purpose. The King majority’s selective contextualism embraced an unexpressed congressional “plan” at the expense of the plan Congress actually enacted.
Keywords: Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, King v. Burwell, health insurance, insurance exchanges, exchange tax credits, purposivism, contextualism
JEL Classification: K23, K34
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation