King: KTB American Government and Civics Series
King v. Burwell (2015) is one of the landmark Supreme Court cases featured in the KTB Prep American Government and Civics series designed to acquaint users with the origins, concepts, organizations, and policies of the United States government and political system. The goal is greater familiarization with the rights and obligations of citizenship at the local, state, national, and global levels and the history of our nation as a democracy. While there is overlap, these landmark cases are separated into cases addressing:
- Foreign Policy
- Public Safety
- Death Penalty
- Speech, Press, and Protest
- Criminal Justice
- Politics, Society, Freedom, and Equality
The Supreme Court
The Supreme Court is the highest court in the United States. Article III of the U.S. Constitution created the Supreme Court and authorized Congress to pass laws establishing a system of lower courts. The Constitution elaborated neither the exact powers and prerogatives of the Supreme Court nor the organization of the Judicial Branch as a whole. Thus, it has been left to Congress and to the Justices of the Court through their decisions to develop the Federal Judiciary and a body of Federal law.
The number of Justices on the Supreme Court changed six times before settling at the present total of nine in 1869. Since the formation of the Court in 1790, there have been only 17 Chief Justices* and 102 Associate Justices, with Justices serving for an average of 16 years. On average a new Justice joins the Court almost every two years.
The Supreme Court of the United States hears about 100 to 150 appeals of the more than 7,000 cases it is asked to review every year. That means the decisions made by the 12 Circuit Courts of Appeals across the country and the Federal Circuit Court are the last word in thousands of cases.
Court of Appeals
In the federal court system’s present form, 94 district level trial courts and 13 courts of appeals sit below the Supreme Court. The 94 federal judicial districts are organized into 12 regional circuits, each of which has a court of appeals. The appellate court’s task is to determine whether or not the law was applied correctly in the trial court. Appeals courts consist of three judges and do not use a jury.
The appellate courts do not retry cases or hear new evidence. They do not hear witnesses testify. There is no jury. Appellate courts review the procedures and the decisions in the trial court to make sure that the proceedings were fair and that the proper law was applied correctly.
A court of appeals hears challenges to district court decisions from courts located within its circuit, as well as appeals from decisions of federal administrative agencies. In addition, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has nationwide jurisdiction to hear appeals in specialized cases, such as those involving patent laws, and cases decided by the U.S. Court of International Trade and the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.
The nation’s 94 trial courts are called U.S. District Courts. At a trial in a U.S. District Court, witnesses give testimony and a judge or jury decides who is guilty or not guilty — or who is liable or not liable. District courts resolve disputes by determining the facts and applying legal principles to decide who is right.
Trial courts include the district judge who tries the case and a jury that decides the case. Magistrate judges assist district judges in preparing cases for trial. They may also conduct trials in misdemeanor cases.
There is at least one district court in each state, and the District of Columbia. Each district includes a U.S. bankruptcy court as a unit of the district court.
Federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction over bankruptcy cases involving personal, business, or farm bankruptcy. This means a bankruptcy case cannot be filed in state court. Bankruptcy Appellate Panels (BAPs) are 3-judge panels authorized to hear appeals of bankruptcy court decisions. These panels are a unit of the federal courts of appeals, and must be established by that circuit. Five circuits have established panels: First Circuit, Sixth Circuit, Eighth Circuit, Ninth Circuit, and Tenth Circuit.
King v Burwell (2015)
In 2010, Congress passed ACA to increase the number of Americans covered by health insurance and decrease the cost of health care. The ACA required each state to establish an “exchange” through which people could purchase health care coverage, and if a state elected not to do so, the federal government would establish one through the Secretary of Health and Human Services. The ACA also required people to obtain the minimum essential coverage or pay a tax penalty unless they fell within an unaffordability exemption for low-income individuals.
To limit the number of people that would fall into such an exemption, the ACA provided for tax credits that are calculated based on the health plan in which an individual enrolls through the exchange. Although the legislative language of the ACA pertaining to the tax credits only referred to the exchanges established by the states, the IRS created a regulation that made the tax credits available to those enrolled in plans through federal as well as state exchanges.
Virginia declined to establish a state-run exchange and has one operated by the federal government. Plaintiff David King is a Virginia resident who, without the tax credits, would fall under the unaffordability exception and be exempt from having to purchase health insurance. He sued arguing that the IRS regulation exceeded the agency’s statutory authority, is arbitrary and capricious, and is contrary to the law in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act. The district court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed.
Q: Did the Internal Revenue Service permissibly create a regulation that extended the tax credits the Affordable Care Act authorized to federal exchanges as well as those created by the states?
A: Yes. Subsidies provided through federal exchanges are provided to those enrolled in states.
6-3 decision ruling tax credits for state and federal exchanges were constitutional. Upheld, as consistent with the statute, the outlay of premium tax credits to qualifying persons in all states, both those with exchanges established directly by a state, and those otherwise established by the HHS. The statute as a whole was ambiguous, and that “the pertinent statutory phrase” ought to be interpreted in a manner “that is compatible with the rest of the law.”