In a major win for the Obama administration, the Supreme Court held in a 6-3 decision that the Affordable Care Act authorized federal tax credits for eligible Americans living not only in states with their own exchanges but also in the 34 states with federal exchanges.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for himself, Justice Anthony Kennedy and the four liberal justices. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the dissent, joined by Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.
"Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them," Roberts wrote in the majority opinion. "If at all possible, we must interpret the Act in a way that is consistent with the former, and avoids the latter."
In a dissent, Scalia said "we should start calling this law SCOTUScare," referring to the two times the Court has saved the law.
The ruling staved off a major political showdown and what would have been a mad scramble in some states to set up their own healthcare exchanges to keep millions from losing healthcare coverage.
The court also upheld the Fair Housing Act, Justice Kennedy the swing vote there in a 5-4 split.
A divided U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday embraced a broad interpretation of the type of civil rights allegations that can be made under the landmark Fair Housing Act by ruling that the law allows for discrimination claims based on seemingly neutral practices that may have a discriminatory effect.
On a 5-4 vote in a major civil rights case, the court handed a victory to civil rights groups and the administration of President Barack Obama, which had backed a Texas nonprofit that claimed the state violated the law by disproportionately awarding low-income housing tax credits to developers who own properties in poor, minority-dominated neighborhoods.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, a conservative who often casts the deciding vote in close cases, joined the court's four liberals in the majority.
The court was considering whether the 1968 law allows for so-called disparate impact claims in which plaintiffs only need to show the discriminatory effect of a particular practice and not evidence of discriminatory intent. There is no dispute over the law's prohibition on openly discriminatory acts in the sale and rental of housing.
The case was closely watched by lenders and insurance companies, which say they are unfairly targeted. Industry groups say that companies use neutral criteria when assessing risk. The existing law allows challenges to legitimate business practices, they argue.
As I've argued, if the FHA's disparate impact claims were removed, the law would be as empty as the Voting Rights Act is now. I'm glad to see that it has survived.
More SCOTUS decisions tomorrow.