The Supreme Court was off to a good start this year. They had already handed down pro-liberty decisions with their ruling that blocks warrantless searches of hotel registries and their pronouncement that a New Deal era agriculture program was unconstitutional. The former held that the police did not have the right search a hotel’s books for guests names without getting a warrant first. The latter was a landslide 8-1 decision that will end a government program that forced farmers to sell raisins at below market prices or face confiscation. Unfortunately, that decision was limited to raisins and did not expand to other goods.
Both of those decisions were made against the good intentions of those laws – as rulings should be. The police could say that being able to see who’s staying in a hotel without a warrant isn’t an invasion of privacy. It’s just done to help them find criminals and is well-intentioned. The same could be said for the government’s raisin program. The government was just trying to keep prices of raisins low and stabilize the agriculture market.
The problem with those arguments is that intentions are not what is important about a law. Instead, it is the precise words of the law themselves that count. It is the rights these laws protect that matter – or more often the freedoms that are violated. That’s how the Supreme Court made their decisions regarding those two cases. They saw the exact wording of the program that allowed for confiscation without compensation. They read the unequivocal language of the law that permitted police to self-issue a general warrant to search an entire hotel’s registry. Both of those laws violated our constitutional rights and resulted in our freedoms being unjustly taken away. Therefore, both policies were justly struck down. That’s how the Supreme Court is supposed to make decisions.
Unfortunately, they did not carry that logic into their King v. Burwell decision on Obamacare subsidies. Instead of judging the Affordable Care Act by its words the Supreme Court judged the law by its intentions. The law specifically states that the States must set up their own healthcare exchanges and people are not eligible for subsidies unless they enroll in a State exchange. The court overlooked that explicit wording and said it was “implausible” that the law meant what it said. Chief Justice John Roberts instead declared that exchanges set up by the Federal government would count as exchanges set up by the States.
As Justice Antonin Scalia wrote “Words no longer have meaning if an exchange that is not established by a state is ‘established by the state.” He’s right. Laws must be judged as they are written not as they are intended. Otherwise, it is up to people to decide what the murky intentions are instead of what clear words mean. That turns our country into the rule of man instead of the rule of law. That is not how the law should work and the Supreme Court should know that. The Supreme Court should not judge laws by their intentions by by their results and by their words.