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Posted on 07.03.2012

Supreme Court Expert Discusses Affordable Care Act Decision

This morning Lyle Denniston, Dean of the U.S. Supreme Court Press Corps, spoke to members of the Nashville Health Care Council about the court's historic decision on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.  Joining his audience via webinar from the Supreme Court's press room in Washington, D.C., Denniston endeavored to "clear up some of the continuing confusion" around the court's decision.

For those of you who missed his previous appearances with the Health Care Council, Denniston has been covering the Supreme Court for 54 years. He now covers the court for SCOTUSblog, which grew its daily viewership from a mere 30,000 per day to more than 5.3 million viewers on the day of the healthcare decision thanks to the fast, accurate coverage it provided of the court's opinions on a live blog in the waning days of June (unlike several major cable news outlets that incorrectly reported the court's decision in their scramble to be first).

Among the topics Denniston discussed this morning was the impact of the court's decision to strike down the law’s requirement that all states expand their Medicaid programs in favor of making the expansion optional on a state-by state basis. Denniston expects that state legislatures will soon be inundated with lobbyists advocating for the expansion, perhaps swaying even the ‶red states※ toward Medicaid expansions.

"You're going to have hordes of lobbyists from various stakeholders who want their states to participate [in the Medicaid expansion] just falling all over themselves to get them to vote to go on it," Denniston said. "So it may be that this is not a call made by governors or attorneys general, whatever their individual attitudes."

Denniston also explored the court's decision on the individual mandate. He admitted that he incorrectly predicted the provision would be upheld under the Commerce Clause instead of under tax law, but reminded listeners that there is "a major section in the government's argument" that discusses the tax issue and lays it out fully as an alternative argument."

And on a political front, he provided some context to the political uproar that followed Chief Justice John Roberts' decision to uphold the law alongside the more liberal members of the court. "I think one of the factors to bringing him around is the concern about the institutional stature of the court,※ he said. 

"I think he wanted to make a gesture in this case to make sure the court was not predictably a conservative court and not predictably a partisan court."

But he explained that anyone who reads the opinion of the chief justice will notice that "he has not sacrificed one whit of his conservative philosophy," and calling most of the language "very, very conservative."

For those of you who missed the webinar, I recommend you check out SCOTUSblog for more insights from Denniston and his team.

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