Tuesday, June 30, 2015

No, Biblical Marriage Not Between 1 Man, 1 Woman

Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee. (photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images) Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee. (photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

By Juan Cole, Informed Comment
29 June 15

he freak-out by the Republican presidential candidates over the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage provokes me to revise and reprise the points below. Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee have formally pledged: “We will not honor any decision by the Supreme Court which will force us to violate a clear biblical understanding of marriage as solely the union of one man and one woman.” Sen. Ted Cruz also called on Americans to ignore the SCOTUS ruling.

Does that mean the rest of us can repudiate the decision making W. president in 2000, and can refuse to recognize corporations as persons?

In any case, the Bible doesn’t actually say anything at all about homosexuality, since it is a form of identity that only came into being in modernity. (Same-sex intimacy has been there all along, but in most premodern societies it was not a subculture, though medieval male bortherhoods were common and in South Asia there were hijras).

But wackiest of all is the idea that the Bible sees marriage as between one man and one woman. I don’t personally get how you could, like, actually read the Bible and come to that conclusion (see below). Even if you wanted to argue that the New Testament abrogates all the laws in the Hebrew Bible, there isn’t anything in the NT that clearly forbids polygamy, either, and it was sometimes practiced in the early church, including by priests. Josephus makes it clear that polygamy was still practiced among the Jews of Jesus’ time. Any attempt to shoe-horn stray statements in the New Testament about a man and a woman being married into a commandment of monogamy is anachronistic. Likely it was the Roman Empire that established Christian monogamy as a norm over the centuries. The Church was not even allowed to marry people until well after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, since it was an imperial prerogative.

Ancient scripture can be a source of higher values and spiritual strength, but any time you in a literal-minded way impose specific legal behavior because of it, you’re committing anachronism. Since this is the case, fundamentalists are always highly selective, trying to impose parts of the scripture on us but conveniently ignoring the parts even they can’t stomach as modern persons.

1. In Exodus 21:10 it is clearly written of the husband: “If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish the food, clothing, or marital rights of the first wife.” This is the same rule as the Qur’an in Islam, that another wife can only be taken if the two are treated equally.

2. Let’s take Solomon, who maintained 300 concubines or sex slaves. 1 Kings 11:3: “He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray.” Led him astray! That’s all the Bible minded about this situation? Abducting 300 people and keeping them immured for sex? And the objection is only that they had a lot of diverse religions and interested Solomon in them? (By the way, this is proof that he wasn’t Jewish but just a legendary Canaanite polytheist). I think a settled gay marriage is rather healthier than imprisoning 300 people in your house to have sex with at your whim.

3. Not only does the Bible authorize slavery and human trafficking, but it urges slaves to “submit themselves” to their masters. It should be remembered that masters had sexual rights over their property assuming the slave-woman was not betrothed to another, and so this advice is intended for concubines as well as other slaves. And, the Bible even suggests that slaves quietly accept sadism and cruelty from their masters: 1 Peter 2:18: “Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the cruel.” So a nice gay marriage between two legal equals with no acts of cruelty would be much better than this biblical nightmare.

4. Then there is Abraham, who made a sex slave of his wife’s slave, the Egyptian girl Hagar, and then abandoned her to cruel treatment.

Genesis 16:1-6:

“Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; 2 so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.” Abram agreed to what Sarai said. 3 So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. 4 He slept with Hagar, and she conceived. When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. 5 Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my slave in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the Lord judge between you and me.” 6 “Your slave is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her.

So let’s get this straight. Abraham isn’t said to have married Hagar. Apparently he and Sarah had separate property, because Hagar remains her slave. So he slept with someone else’s slave and got her pregnant. And then when that caused trouble between his wife and her slave, he washed his hands of his property-lover and let his wife mistreat her. As we know from 1 Peter, Hagar was supposed graciously to put up with this, but she was made of fiercer stuff than that, and you really have to root for her in this rather sick family situation.

5. According Mark 12:19, guys, if your brother kicks the bucket, you have to marry your sister-in-law and knock her up. Since the Bible approved of multiple wives, you have to do this even if you’re already married. If you think in-laws are hard to get along with now, try being married to them.

6. So I don’t think this happens very much, but guys, in biblical marriage you might have to cut your wife’s hand off if she defends you too vigorously. That’s right. Say you’re at a bar and this big bald badass with tats starts smashing your face in. And say your wife likes you and wants to stop the guy from giving you a concussion. Say she reaches down and gets him by the balls. So the Bible would reward her for loyalty and bravery and fast thinking, right?

Nope. Now you have to cut off her hand. I mean have to. You’re not allowed to have a moment of weakness and think about how pretty her fingers are. Off with it, to the wrist GOP, you think I’m making this up, right?

Deuteronomy 25:11-12: “11 If two men are fighting and the wife of one of them comes to rescue her husband from his assailant, and she reaches out and seizes him by his private parts, 12 you shall cut off her hand. Show her no pity.”

I’m not sure exactly what kind of weird marriage Deuteronomy is recommending, where certain actions taken by they wife to keep herself from being turned into a widow are punished by her husband by chopping off her hand.

7. The Bible doesn’t even approve of marriage at all! 1 Corinthians 7:8 “To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain single as I do.” So contrary to the GOP’s notion that the Bible authorizes only a single kind of marriage, of which it approves, actually it much prefers believers to die out in a single generation. Only the weak and unbiblical get married.

So this is the real problem. People like Huckabee and Cruz shouldn’t be married in the first place, much less holding up some imaginary ideal of biblical marriage for everybody. And if all the biblical literalists would just obey 1 Corinthians, the whole problem would be over with in just a generation. Then the rest of us could get some peace and make rational policy on social issues.And as for getting married biblically, you can do that in all kinds of imaginative ways– take two wives and someone else’s sex slave as Abraham did, or 300 sex slaves as Solomon did (not to mention the 700 wives), or your brother’s widow in addition to your own wife. And remember, if your sex slave runs away because you’re cruel to the person, the Bible (Philemon) says that other people have the duty to return the slave to you, i.e. basically imposes the duty of trafficking slaves back to sadistic sex maniacs who exploit them. But if the owner is nice and a good Christian, he might consider letting the sex slave go. But he doesn’t have to.


+36 # CAMUS1111 2015-06-29 11:21
Re: the picture above--Don't Huckabee and Santorum make such a "purdy" couple? Wonder where they'll be getting that cake?

+14 # Dust 2015-06-29 11:24

+74 # jon 2015-06-29 13:15
Fundamentalists only care about Religion as a means to control other people - mainly their women.

It is not about their own spirit. When you meet your maker, what was in another person's heart is irrelevant.

+33 # wrknight 2015-06-29 17:55
Quoting jon:
Fundamentalists only care about Religion as a means to control other people - mainly their women.

It is not about their own spirit. When you meet your maker, what was in another person's heart is irrelevant.

What truly boggles my mind is how many fundamentalists preach the bible that they have never read (at least not for comprehension).

+23 # tref 2015-06-29 18:08
Because comprehension requires the ability to think.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Pope contrasts Trump: humility and grace vs bombast and narcissism

Economist, professor, author and political commentator Robert Reich. (photo: Richard Morgenstein)
Economist, professor, author and political commentator Robert Reich. (photo: Richard Morgenstein)

Pope Francis' Message on Climate Change Is Extraordinarily Important

By Robert Reich, Robert Reich's Facebook Page

28 June 15

ope Frances’s message this week on global climate change is extraordinarily important (that it comes out the same week Donald Trump declared his candidacy exposes a human continuum extending from bombast and narcissism to grace and humility). The Pope finds morally deficient an economic system that degrades the environment and worsens inequality; links environmental decline to poverty; attributes it to the growing concentration of greenhouse gases brought on human activity; and rejects the idea that economic growth alone can solve the problem. No Pope in living memory has so poignantly and powerfully cast the problems of inequality and the environment in moral terms that everyone, Catholic and non-Catholic, can understand.

But I wish the Pope hadn’t rejected an important means of reducing carbon in the atmosphere: putting a price on it. (See our video on this page June 8). By broadly condemning “market forces” the Pope suggests the answer is to give up on the market rather than reorganize it to meet human needs. In this respect he plays into the hands of those who see the fundamental choice as between the “market” and the people, when the real choice is between a market system organized for all people or one organized primarily for the rich.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Study confirms fracking pollutes drinking water

contaminated water

Long-Awaited EPA Study Says Fracking Pollutes Drinking Water

The study, nearly 1,000 pages long, presents some of the copious research being done on the impacts of fracking and identifies the ways in which fracking operations could affect drinking water supplies.

In 2010, Congress commissioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to study the impact of fracking on drinking water. The U.S. EPA released its long-awaited final draft of its report today, assessing how fracking for oil and gas can impact access to safe drinking water. The report refuted the conclusion arrived at by the U.S. EPA’s 2004 study that fracking poses no threat to drinking water, a conclusion used to exempt the fracking process from the Safe Drinking Water Act.
Fracking can impact water use and quality at five stages of the operation. Image credit: US EPA
The stages of the hydraulic fracturing water cycle. Shown here is a generalized landscape depicting the activities of the hydraulic fracturing water cycle and their relationship to each other, as well as their relationship to drinking water resources. Image credit: US EPA
The report found that fracking for shale oil and gas has not led to “widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States,” but said fracking could contaminate drinking water under certain conditions, such as when fluids used in the process leaked into the water table, and found isolated cases of water contamination. 

The report looked at water use at five stages of the water-intensive process: use of the available water supply for fracking; the mixing of chemicals with water to create fracking fluid; the flowback of the fluid after it has been injected underground to fracture shale deposits to release oil or gas; treatment of the wastewater byproduct of fracking; and the injection wells frequently used to dispose of fracking wastewater when the process is complete.

“Hydraulic fracturing in combination with advanced directional drilling techniques has made it possible to economically extract oil and gas from unconventional resources, such as shale, tight formations and coalbeds,” the report says. “The growth in domestic oil and gas exploration and production made possible by the expanded use of hydraulic fracturing, has raised concerns about its potential for impacts to human health and the environment. Specific concerns have been raised by the public about the effects of hydraulic fracturing on the quality and quantity of drinking water resources.”

It noted the reason for that concern: “Millions of people live in areas where their drinking water resources are located near hydraulically fractured wells. While most hydraulic fracturing activity from 2000 to 2013 did not occur in close proximity to public water supplies, a sizeable number of hydraulically fractured wells (21,900) were located within 1 mile of at least one PWS source (e.g., infiltration galleries, intakes, reservoirs, springs and ground water wells). Approximately 6,800 sources of drinking water for public water systems, serving more than 8.6 million people year-round, were located within 1 mile of at least one hydraulically fractured well. An additional 3.6 million people obtain drinking water from private water systems.”

The report also pointed out the declining amount of water that could be available for drinking purposes due to extended drought, saying, “The future availability of drinking water sources that are considered fresh in the U.S. will be affected by changes in climate and water use. Declines in surface water resources have already led to increased withdrawals and cumulative net depletions of groundwater in some areas.”

Fracking sites, such as this one in Troy, Pennsylvania, are often close to drinking water sources. Photo credit: U.S. EPA
The study, nearly 1,000 pages long, presents some of the copious research being done on the impacts of fracking and identifies the ways in which fracking operations could affect drinking water supplies. And while the EPA did warn that lack of complete information on these operations as well as changes in the industry limited a complete assessment of these impacts, it identified “potential mechanisms by which hydraulic fracturing could affect drinking water resources.” 

The EPA notes in its executive summary that data used in its assessment of wells came fromFracFocus, a publicly accessible website managed by the Ground Water Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission where oil and gas production well operators may disclose information voluntarily or pursuant to state requirements about the ingredients used in hydraulic fracturing fluids at individual wells.

As a result of this limited and voluntary information provided by oil and gas companies,Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, pointed out, “The study released today falls far short of the level of scrutiny and government oversight needed to protect and health and safety of the millions of American people affected by drilling and fracking for oil and gas. It is outrageous that the oil and gas industry refused to cooperate with the EPA on a single ‘prospective case study.’ This reveals the undue influence the industry has over the government and shows that the industry is afraid to allow careful monitoring of their operations.”

Lauren Pagel, policy director at Earthworks, agrees. “Industry data and independent studies tell us that 1 – 6 percent of unconventional fracked wells fail immediately, meaning tens of thousands of failed wells litter our country,” she said. “Despite industry’s obstruction, EPA found that fracking pollutes water in a number of ways. That’s why industry didn’t cooperate. They know fracking is an inherently risky, dirty process that doesn’t bear close, independent examination.”

Though the draft report didn’t find evidence of “widespread” impacts on drinking water to date, the U.S. EPA report did conclude, “The colocation of hydraulic fracturing activities with drinking water resources increases the potential for these activities to affect the quality and quantity of current and future drinking water resources. While close proximity of hydraulically fractured wells to drinking water resources does not necessarily indicate that an impact has or will occur, information about the relative location of wells and water supplies is an initial step in understanding where impacts might occur.”

In response to these findings, Mark Ruffalo, actor and advisory board member of Americans Against Fracking, said, “Today’s EPA fracking water contamination study confirms what both the oil and gas industry and the Obama Administration have long denied—that fracking poisons American’s drinking water supplies. The EPA study reviewed hundreds of confirmed water contamination cases from drilling and fracking. It’s time to stop poisoning the American people and shift rapidly to renewable energy.”

John Armstrong of Frack Action agrees. “Like hundreds of peer-reviewed studies, this shows that New York was right to ban fracking. Despite serious shortcomings, including the fact that the oil and gas industry refused access to collect the data needed, the EPA study clearly shows that fracking has been impacting and contaminating drinking water. All water is connected. Any sign of drinking water contamination signals a public health crisis and is a call for a ban.”

Saturday, June 27, 2015

GOP's disrespectful reaction to court decisions

United States Supreme Court. (photo: Roger L. Wollenberg/Bloomberg/Getty)
United States Supreme Court. (photo: Roger L. Wollenberg/Bloomberg/Getty)

Republicans Fear Victory for Health Care Could Pave Way for Education, Environment

By Andy Borowitz, The New Yorker
26 June 15
he Supreme Court’s decision to preserve Obamacare subsidies has drawn sharp rebukes from Republican Presidential hopefuls, who warn that the victory for health care might eventually pave the way for similar advances in education and the environment.

“The Supreme Court has decided, apparently, that every American should have access to quality health care,” said Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas). “What if it decided to say the same thing about education? I don’t mean to be an alarmist but, after today, I believe that anything is possible.”

Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) also blasted the Court, telling reporters that “a government that protects health care is one small, dangerous step away from protecting the environment.”

“The nightmare that I have long feared is now suddenly upon us,” Paul said. “Mark my words, we are on a slippery slope toward clean air and water.”

On the campaign trail in Iowa, the former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee raised another doomsday scenario, telling his audience, “If the Court thinks people should be allowed to see a doctor when they want, they probably also think that people should be able to marry anyone they want. My friends, that is not what God intended when He created America.”

Speaking from New York, candidate Donald Trump offered his own scathing critique of the Supreme Court. “You look at them in their robes, and you say, ‘Those robes look freaking cheap,’ ” he said. “When I’m President, we’re getting more expensive robes.”


+47 # CL38 2015-06-26 19:31
A week to finally celebrate victories that restore a bit of sanity to our country.

CONGRATULATIONS to all who worked long and hard for both unexpected Supreme Court decisions!

On another note, It was great to see Obama break out into "Amazing Grace" and show more of who he really is. Great to see him let loose .... and no longer feel constrained to keep his black roots under wraps!

If he continues, gop heads WILL truly explode ....and perhaps, even transform his Presidency.
+9 # pagrad 2015-06-27 06:34
Does the article mean to imply that the American society may develop to the stage of the advanced nations of Europe, who have free Health Care, Free Education and other social advancements? That’s hardly likely. American folks have been brainwashed by their keepers to be subservient to the upper 1%.
It will take another century.
+2 # ritawalpoleague 2015-06-27 09:47
May not "...take another century.", if Bernie Sanders (the same Independent, non-bought off pol. who has been a true people vs. self server for 30 plus years) gets the Dem. nomination, and is elected in '16, the "...brainwashed by their keepers to be subservient to the upper 1%" will change meaningfully.

The approx. 6,000 supporters of Bernie, who cheeringly came to the Denver team meeting exactly a week ago (6/20/15) crave, with millions of other U.S. citizens, real McCoy change, as seen in the Sanders 12 Point Plan (pull it up, it's a ray of real McCoy hope). And, an ocean of hope it was what happened when Bernie strongly praised Pope Francis, and every single one of the massive number of attendees who were seated, stood and cheered with great gusto.

Yep, a bit of sanity is now in place, with some sort of revolution pending. Let's all work to give Bernie's 'political revolution' a try, via doing what it takes to get him nominated then elected. Peaceful revolution is preferable to nearly all of us, who recognize what a 'corruptcracy' this POLICE STATE AIN'T GREAT country has become. Time it is, and then some, to copy EU countries that are far superior to this so broken country of ours, which is now no way a democracy, with Constitution quashed and rule of law in the toilet.

Wake up folks, and support Bernie Sanders, cause.....


Friday, June 26, 2015

2nd great day for liberals: Gays can marry

Supporters of same-sex marriage gathered outside the Supreme Court on Friday. (photo: Doug Mills/The New York Times)
Robert Barnes, The Washington Post
Supporters of same-sex marriage gathered outside the Supreme Court on Friday. (photo: Doug Mills/The New York Times)

Supreme Court Rules Gay Couples Nationwide Have a Right to Marry

By Robert Barnes, The Washington Post
he Supreme Court on Friday delivered a historic victory for gay rights, ruling 5 to 4 that the Constitution requires that same-sex couples be allowed to marry no matter where they live and that states may no longer reserve the right only for heterosexual couples.

The court’s action marks the culmination of an unprecedented upheaval in public opinion and the nation’s jurisprudence. Advocates called it the most pressing civil rights issue of modern times, while critics said the courts had sent the country into uncharted territory by changing the traditional definition of marriage.

“The court now holds that same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry. No longer may this liberty be denied to them,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion. He was joined in the opinion by the court’s liberal justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

All four of the court’s most conservative members — Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. — dissented and each wrote separate opinions.

Reading a dissent from the bench for the first time in his tenure, Roberts said, “This is a court, not a legislature.”

The country’s first legally recognized same-sex marriages took place just 11 years ago, the result of a Massachusetts state supreme court decision. Now, more than 70 percent of Americans live in states where same-sex couples are allowed to marry, according to estimates.

The Supreme Court used cases from Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee, where restrictions about same-sex marriage were upheld by an appeals court last year, to find that the Constitution does not allow such prohibitions.

The questions raised in the cases were left unanswered in 2013, when the justices last confronted the issue of same-sex marriage. A slim majority of the court said at the time that a key portion of the Defense of Marriage Act — withholding the federal government’s recognition of same-sex marriages — was unconstitutional. In a separate case, the court said procedural issues kept it from answering the constitutional question in a case from California, but that move allowed same-sex marriages to resume in that state.

Since then, courts across the nation — with the notable exception of the Cincinnati-based federal appeals court that left intact the restrictions in the four states at issue — have struck down a string of state prohibitions on same-sex marriage, many of them passed by voters in referendums.

When the Supreme Court declined to review a clutch of those court decisions in October, same-sex marriage proliferated across the country.

Couples may now marry in 37 states and the District of Columbia.

Public attitudes toward such unions have undergone a remarkable change as well. A recent Washington Post-ABC poll showed a record 61 percent of Americans say they support same-sex marriage. The acceptance is driven by higher margins among the young.

When the justices declined in October to review the string of victories same-sex marriage proponents had won in other parts of the country, it meant the number of states required to allow gay marriages grew dramatically, offering the kind of cultural shift the court often likes to see before approving a fundamental change.

The Obama administration had urged the court to find that the Constitution requires such restrictions be struck down, and Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. made the case on behalf of the administration at the court’s oral arguments in April.

“In a world in which gay and lesbian couples live openly as our neighbors, they raise their children side by side with the rest of us, they contribute fully as members of the community . . . it is simply untenable — untenable — to suggest that they can be denied the right of equal participation in an institution of marriage, or that they can be required to wait until the majority decides that it is ready to treat gay and lesbian people as equals,” he said.

The combined cases now before the Supreme Court are known as Obergefell v. Hodges. 


+30 # wrknight 2015-06-26 09:20
"Reading a dissent from the bench for the first time in his tenure, Roberts said, 'This is a court, not a legislature.'”

Roberts should have kept that in mind when he ruled on Citizens United.
+20 # reiverpacific 2015-06-26 09:50
Quoting wrknight:
"Reading a dissent from the bench for the first time in his tenure, Roberts said, 'This is a court, not a legislature.'”

Roberts should have kept that in mind when he ruled on Citizens United.

You took the words right out of my daffy digits!
It especially applies to Scalia and Thomas, those two idealogical demagogue members of the Catholic, elite, shadowy Opus Dei, should never have been elected to ANY bench, especially this one of last resort and whose votes and opinions are as predictable and toxic as the results of drinking arsenic, and as closely linked as venom and pain.
+15 # MEBrowning 2015-06-26 09:58
Precisely. Scalia and Thomas in particular have demonstrated repeatedly that they are living in a world of their own making, where corporations are people and intolerance is the order of the day. If they are unwilling or unable to march to the beat of justice, they are not fit to serve as its final arbiters.
+1 # davidr 2015-06-26 10:47
I think Roberts is actually the more interesting case. As it has appeared during his tenure, Roberts is a terribly stunted human being, most profoundly stunted in his basic conception of what a person is. He can see, where most cannot, how a corporation is a person naturally endowed with political (Citizens United) and religious (Hobby Lobby) rights. But he cannot see how private individuals wishing to contract in civil marriage must be treated under the 14th Amendment.

He says, "Celebrate the opportunity for a new expression of commitment to a partner [and] new benefits, … but do not celebrate the Constitution." Amazingly, for Roberts, there is no Constitutional issue in Obergefell! The case is about eccentrics for whom he has no sympathy seeking benefits they don't naturally deserve. Let them talk to someone in their own statehouse (if they're considered people there).

The depth of his alienation from real human beings, his abject deferral to corporate & authoritarian forms — these sound like some form of psychopathy. If at a fundamental level Roberts doesn't feel himself to be a person among other people, that would explain a lot about his jurisprudence.
+5 # Dust 2015-06-26 10:24
Welcome home, brothers and sisters!!!
+10 # Old4Poor 2015-06-26 10:25
I will be 72 on July 4th and have lived through exciting times, with a lot of discouraging things but also many times that are quite wonderful.

This week, with Confederate flags coming down, a re dedication to the Voting Rights Act in Congress, the right of all to Health Insurance declared, and now the right to love and be loved for all.

Wonderful, Wonderful, Wonderful.

Do not think that it is only the young who support Same-Sex Marriage.

Life can be a long and lonely experience. We each deserves the right to happiness.
+5 # Majikman 2015-06-26 10:25
This ruling will further dilute the poisonous influence of the religious fundy wackos. Until those mean spirited crazies are completely de-fanged, no woman or child is safe from their wrath. Great step for personal freedom and privacy.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Supreme Court Upholds Obamacare Subsidies

Demonstrators rally outside the Supreme Court in early March during oral arguments on the healthcare law. (photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)
Demonstrators rally outside the Supreme Court in early March during oral arguments on the healthcare law. (photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

By Lawrence Hurley, Reuters
25 June 15
he U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the nationwide availability of tax subsidies that are crucial to the implementation of President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law, handing a major victory to the president.

The court ruled on a 6-3 vote that the 2010 Affordable Care Act, widely known as Obamacare, did not restrict the subsidies to states that establish their own online healthcare exchanges. It marked the second time in three years that the high court ruled against a major challenge to the law brought by conservatives seeking to gut it.

Chief Justice John Roberts was joined by fellow conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy and the court’s liberal members in the majority.

"Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them," Roberts wrote, adding that nationwide availability of the credits is required to "avoid the type of calamitous result that Congress plainly meant to avoid."

Shares of hospital operators, health services providers and insurers rallied broadly following the court's decision to uphold the subsidies. Top gainers included hospital companies Tenet Healthcare Corp., up 8.8 percent, and Community Health Systems Inc., up 8.5 percent.

The decision means the subsidies will remain not just in the 13 states that have set up their own exchanges and the three states that have state-federal hybrid exchanges, but also in the 34 states that use the exchange run by the federal government.

The case centered on the tax subsidies offered under the law, passed by Obama's fellow Democrats in Congress in 2010 over unified Republican opposition, that help low- and moderate-income people buy private health insurance. The exchanges are online marketplaces that allow consumers to shop among competing insurance plans.

The question before the justices was whether a four-word phrase in the expansive law saying subsidies are available to those buying insurance on exchanges "established by the state" has been correctly interpreted by the administration to allow subsidies to be available nationwide.

Roberts wrote that although the conservative challengers’ arguments about the plain meaning of the statute were “strong,” the “context and structure of the act compel us to depart from what would otherwise be the most natural reading of the pertinent statutory phrase.”

Justice Antonin Scalia took the relatively rare step of reading a summary of his dissenting opinion from the bench.

In his reading of the statute, "it is hard to come up with a reason to use these words other than the purpose of limiting credits to state exchanges," Scalia said.

"We really should start calling the law SCOTUScare," he added, referencing the court’s earlier decision upholding the constitutionality of the law. SCOTUS is the acronym for the Supreme Court of the United States.

The ruling will come as a major relief to Obama as he seeks to ensure that his legacy legislative achievement is implemented effectively and survives political and legal attacks before he leaves office in early 2017.

The current system will remain in place, with subsidies available in all 50 states. If the challengers had won, at least 6.4 million people in at least 34 states would have lost subsidies that help low- and moderate-income people afford private health insurance. The average subsidy is $272 per month.

A loss for the Obama administration also could have had a broader impact on insurance markets by deterring younger, healthier people from buying health insurance, which would lead to premiums rising for older, less healthy people who need healthcare most, according to analysts.

The Democratic-backed law aimed to help millions of Americans who lacked any health insurance afford coverage.

The Obama administration has hailed the law as a success, saying 16.4 million previously uninsured people have gained health insurance since it was enacted. There are currently around 26 million people without health insurance, according to government figures.

Leading up the high court's ruling, Obama warned of far-reaching consequences of overturning a law that he said had become "woven into the fabric of America." In a June 9 speech, Obama said taking away health insurance provided under the law to millions of people who need it the most "seems so cynical."

Conservatives have fought Obamacare from its inception, calling it a government overreach and "socialized medicine."

Opponents repeatedly but unsuccessfully sought to repeal it in Congress and launched a series of legal challenges. In 2012, Roberts, a conservative appointed by Republican President George W. Bush, cast the deciding vote in a 5-4 decision that upheld the law on constitutional grounds, siding with the court's four liberals.

The current case started as a long-shot legal challenge by conservative lawyers that oppose the law. Financed by a libertarian Washington group called the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the lawyers recruited four people from Virginia to be the plaintiffs. The lead plaintiff was a self-employed limousine driver named David King.

They are eligible to receive the subsidies but oppose the measure because they object to the Obamacare "individual mandate," which went into effect in 2014, that requires individuals to obtain health insurance.

A district court judge ruled for the government, as did the federal appeals court in Richmond, Virginia. But the Supreme Court then agreed to hear it.

The challengers said that the four-word phrase in the law indicates that only people who have bought insurance on state-established exchanges qualify for the tax-credit subsidies.

The Obama administration, backed by the healthcare industry, said other provisions in the law made clear that Congress intended the subsidies to be available nationwide regardless of whether states set up their own exchanges or leave the task to the federal government.

The case is King v. Burwell, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 14-114.


+13 # REDPILLED 2015-06-25 09:29
Good, but ObamaCare still leaves 35 million Americans uninsured and another 30-plus million underinsured, and still keeps health INSURANCE as a corporate profit-making venture rather than health CARE as a universal human right, as Chapter 25 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, signed by the U.S. in 1948, states.

Only single-payer health care, an improved form of Medicare for All, will make health CARE a universal right in the U.S.

Obama had the chance in 2008 right after his first election, with Democrats in control of the Senate and House, and Obama riding a huge wave of popularity, to use his "bully pulpit" to push for single-payer health care, which a majority of Americans favored. But he and then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi took single-payer off the table of discussion so the corporate insurance industry who funded Democrats would not be betrayed. It was easier to betray the American people.

See this: ‘Subsidies upheld, but health needs still unmet’: doctors group | Physicians for a National Health Program
+3 # reiverpacific 2015-06-25 09:51
Well, Roberts answered my previous question as to whether he'd do an about-face from his original vote; quite reassuring.
Of course Scalia, lap-dog superfink Thomas and Ailito were pretty predictable.
What gets me is that there are actually "Conservative" a.k.a. ideologically activist reactionaries in this case, OR "Liberals" on such a high Court, which is empowered to try cases on their legal merit and precedence rather than personal socio-political convictions. Isn't impartially-bas ed decision making on examination of complex evidence why they trained as lawyers in the first place -or am I naively dreaming?
Scalia and Thomas especially, as members of the secretive, elite Catholic cult Opus Dei, sworn to uphold it's restrictive and oppressive dictates, should have never been elected to the highest -or any- bench in the land.
+5 # nogardflow 2015-06-25 10:03
I think it's all an act, the Republicans have to be against the ACA to satisfy their base, but since they don't have a reasonable plan to replace it, overturning it could be costly in the next elections. The way to get around that quandary, is to have the Supreme Court uphold the ACA, since the Justices can't be voted out of office, then if the Republicans can take over the government in the upcoming elections, they can take their time dismantling and defunding the ACA, which has been their plan all along.
0 # Seadog 2015-06-25 10:23
Obama and the Corporate friendly elements of both parties are popping the Champagne corks again today. Yesterday they won on the secret Trade pact fast trac vote and today it's the upholding of Obamaramacare the Corp. version of Healthcare. That Scalia, Thomas, and Alito would have preferred no Healthcare at all for most people was a kind of not very funny dissent. Missing from the whole sorry drama was what most Americans wanted ( Single Payer.) Gov't in the US is hopelessly broken.

+1 # bbaldwin2001 2015-06-25 10:36
Finally the Supreme Court made a GOOD decision. This is wonderful news.