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After 80 minutes of arguments on the Obama health law, it was obvious the U.S. Supreme Court was divided over whether subsidies could be offered to consumers buying health insurance via healthcare.gov, but there was no clear answer on which way the Justices were going.
Here is my quick video take immediately after the arguments wrapped up:
During arguments, Justice Elena Kagan called the arguments a “never ending saga,” as the more liberal justices repeatedly made clear their support for the law, and helped the government warn of the consequences if subsidies were withdrawn from the federal exchange.
“There would be these disastrous consequences,” said Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
At issue was a small phrase, “established by the State,” which opponents of the law argued were evidence that subsidies should only be offered through state health insurance exchanges, and not the federal exchange.
“We look at the whole text,” Justice Kagan argued, “not the simple four or five words.”
But as the liberals pushed forward, the conservative wing of the Supreme Court pushed back, led by Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito.
“This is not the most elegantly drafted statute,” Scalia said at one point, labeling some of the law’s text as “gobbledygook” and knocking down the argument of the Solicitor General about how to interpret the text of the President’s health reform law.
At one point, Justice Alito floated the idea of striking down the subsidies through the federal exchange, but staying that until the end of the year, in order to prevent a major disruption.
“Going forward there would be no harm,” Alito told the U.S. Solicitor General, who did not agree.
Scalia said if the decision went against the Obama Administration, it would be a call for the Congress to act.
“Wouldn’t the Congress act to ease the consequences if we find the subsidies illegal?” Scalia asked.
“What, this Congress?” Solicitor General Donald Verrilli shot back, prompting a giant round of almost mocking laughter from those in the courtroom.
Two key members of the Supreme Court did not tip their hand during arguments, as Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy asked tough questions of both sides; their votes seem to hold the key to this case.
Jamie Dupree is the Radio News Director of the Washington Bureau of the Cox Media Group and writes the Washington Insider blog.
A native of Washington, D.C., Jamie has covered Congress and politics in the nation’s capital since the Reagan Administration, and has been reporting for Cox since 1989.