March 2nd, 2015
The Supreme Court has spoken by a 6-3 vote, with Justice Anthony Kennedy writing an opinion for the Court joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan. In a strong, clear voice, the Court upheld the enforcement of a major federal statute against a state entity that had failed to embrace federal policy with respect to health care. Although not formally a constitutional decision, the Court’s interpretation of congressional intent played out against the backdrop of an important constitutional question: the permissible and appropriate balance between federal lawmaking and residual state authority. And it was the federal government’s seeming disregard of state sovereignty that led what has become the Court’s conservative rump – here Justice Alito, joined by Justices Scalia and Thomas – to write bluntly in dissent.
The case is North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners v. Federal Trade Commission, not King v. Burwell, and the major federal statute is the Sherman Antitrust Act, not the Affordable Care Act. Oral argument in North Carolina State Board took place last October (David Hyman and I wrote about it here); the Court’s decision was issued on February 25, 2015.
North Carolina State Board has nothing to do with “Obamacare,” but it may turn out to be the most important health care (and general public law) decision of the year. (Note to Pundits and Hypesters: King v. Burwell will only matter if the Court rules for the plaintiffs, and is unlikely to create enduring law even then. If the government wins, the case will soon be forgotten.) The Supreme Court’s ruling will give professional licensing boards throughout the country significant pause before adopting ad hoc policies that disadvantage competing professionals or non-professionals, and it should lead to a constructive conversation (and perhaps uniform or model legislation) regarding the accountability of self-regulatory bodies to actual state government. Its impact could be comparable to a major revamping of Joint Commission standards for health care facilities – low in visibility but dramatic in operational change.Read the rest of this entry »