Soon after the D.C. Circuit delivered a major loss to the Administration in rejecting its statutory interpretation under the ACA in Halbig v. Burwell, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has delivered an equally important victory on the very same issue in King v. Burwell. This tale of two circuits only increases the likelihood of a Supreme Court review and perhaps the case for expedited appeals.
Fourth Circuit Judge Roger Gregory (who was nominated by George W. Bush but given an recess appointment by Bill Clinton) wrote for the panel. Gregory adopts the deferential standard advocated by Judge Edwards in his Halbig dissent. He finds that the law is ambiguous and thus “Applying deference to the IRS’s determination . . . we uphold the rule as a permissible exercise of the agency’s discretion.” It is a victory for Chevron, which some of us believe gives far too much deference to agencies in their actions and interpretations.
In a ruling that should resonate with many ACA supporters, Gregory holds:
It is therefore clear that widely available tax credits are essential to fulfilling the Act’s primary goals and that Congress was aware of their importance when drafting the bill. The IRS Rule advances this understanding by ensuring that this essential component exists on a sufficiently large scale. The IRS Rule became all the more important once a significant number of states indicated their intent to forgo establishing Exchanges. With only sixteen state-run Exchanges currently in place, the economic framework supporting the Act would crumble if the credits were unavailable on federal Exchanges. Furthermore, without an exception to the individual mandate, millions more Americans unable to purchase insurance without the credits would be forced to pay a penalty that Congress never envisioned imposing on them. The IRS Rule avoids both these unforeseen and undesirable consequences and thereby advances the true purpose and means of the Act.
Here is the opinion: King decision