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United States Supreme Court Rulings

By: Constitution Staff

The United States Supreme Court issued three significant opinions which impacted Oklahoma. Two of the rulings were generally criticized by Oklahoma officials, and the third was welcomed.

ObamCare Federal Exchange Subsidies (King vs. Burwell)

On June 25, the high court issued a ruling in the King v. Burwell case which involved the Affordable Care Act, typically called ObamaCare. The case concerned whether individuals in states with Federally-Facilitated Exchanges are eligible for premium subsidies. Oklahoma was the first state to challenge the legality of an IRS rule which was contrary to the written law. Rather than rule on the whether the law meant what it said, the court decided that regardless of what the law said, it was important to support ObamaCare and ignore the written law. Indeed, had they ruled otherwise, ObamaCare would have collapsed. The courts' 6-3 decision upholds the Obama Administration's decision to provide federal subsidies to those signing up for healthcare plans through the federal exchanges, not just state exchanges as specified in the legislation.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt said: "It's disappointing the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Obama Administration's executive rewriting of the Affordable Care Act by ruling on the context of the statute rather than the plain language of the law. The court acknowledged that the challengers' arguments were strong, but focused instead on the outcome of their opinion. There's no doubt the rule of law took a hit today, but I won't be deterred from continuing to fight for the rule of law and our founding principles.

Governor Mary Fallin said: "Regardless of the court's ruling today, the status quo cannot be allowed to stand. Now, more than ever, the American people need Congress to use its powers to move the country towards constructive, market-oriented solutions that empower families, provide flexibility to states, improve health and reduce the cost of health care."

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe said: "I am disappointed the Supreme Court ignored the clear writing of the law. By doing this, the Court is allowing subsidies to be awarded on federally established exchanges, further preserving the law. Obamacare has been broken from the very beginning. Rather than reduce the cost and increase the availability of health care options, the law has centralized decision-making in Washington to the detriment of the American people. Despite this ruling, my colleagues and I remain committed to repealing Obamacare and replacing it with patient-centered reforms that will reduce the cost of care such that subsidies are not required to make health insurance affordable."

U.S. Sen. James Lankford said: "This ruling sets a difficult precedent for the future of legal interpretation. The court ruled that because the text of the law is "inartful' in other areas, they assumed it was also inartful related to the state exchange. Oklahomans shouldn't pay the price for regulators' free interpretation. The problems with Obamacare run deeper than just drafting errors. Washington Democrats jammed this poorly written law through Congress five years ago and the resulting ambiguity is one of the many problems we will face for years to come."

Former U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, who recently joined the Convention of States Project as a Senior Advisor said: "Today's Supreme Court decision, King v. Burwell, was revolutionary in that it completely denuded the role of Congress in the future. One ruling has revealed there is absolutely no longer any balance of power in the federal government as our Founders intended." Along with Sen. Coburn, two presidential candidates -- Gov. Bobby Jindal and Mike Huckabee -- have voiced their support for the Convention of States Project. But, critics say that even if an Article V, Convention of the States succeeded in adding new amendments to the Constitution, the federal government, and the U.S. Supreme Court will ignore those just as they ignore the present Constitution, as evidenced in the ObamaCare rulings.

The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA), a conservative think tank, advised that Oklahoma and other states to resist the urge to establish a state run insurance exchange. "Today's Supreme Court decision in King v. Burwell ignores the clear text and meaning of a federal law. It also wipes away arguments that Oklahoma should build a state ObamaCare exchange. The Supreme Court ruling that individuals can get subsidies on the federal exchange renders state exchanges entirely unnecessary, while making clear that ObamaCare is not only controlled by, but is the responsibility of the federal government. States should continue to decline to participate in and implement state-based exchanges. Responsibility to repeal ObamaCare and replace it with policies that actually improve health outcomes has been and remains with Congress," said OCPA President Michael Carnuccio.

However, the decision did bring praise from the one source. Oklahoma Democratic Party Chair Mark Hammons released the following statement: "We are very pleased that the Affordable Care Act has been upheld by the Republican-appointed U.S. Supreme Court. This shows that even partisan judges have recognized that this Act is a reasonable and appropriate way to handle the health crisis in the United States. This represents an opportunity for the Republican governor in Oklahoma to put aside partisan politics and embrace a bipartisan system that will bring billions of tax dollars back to Oklahoma, provide health coverage to over 200,000 Oklahomans, create more than 13,000 jobs in the healthcare industry, and save our rural hospitals from bankruptcy."

Same-sex Marriage Ruling (Obergefell v. Hodges)

In a 5-4 decision, the High Court decided on June 26 that the 14th Amendment requires a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex, thereby extending the "right" for gays to marry nationwide. The High Court effectively legalized same-sex marriages in most states when it refused to consider an appeal by Oklahoma and other states last year. But when lower courts upheld state bans on gay marriage in other states, the court decided to step in to settle the debate.

Oklahoma AG Pruitt said, "I am profoundly disappointed in the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to remove from the democratic process the debate over same-sex marriage. Today's decision was not grounded in our Constitution, but rather in five unelected judges' view of what the law ought to be. That is not what our Founders had in mind. Today's decision also threatens the ability of citizens to live out their faith in the public square. The Obama Administration's lawyer warned that tax-exempt organizations -- like churches -- may soon see that status revoked by the Administration if those organizations don't recognize same-sex marriage. This is unacceptable, and my office will fight at every turn to protect the religious liberties of Oklahomans."

Senator Inhofe said: "My position on this issue is clear and has not changed. It is unfortunate that the Court took it upon itself to decide for the people what was being appropriately debated and decided in the states through the democratic process."

Senator Lankford said: "I am disappointed with today's ruling on marriage. During oral arguments the Court stated that there is a millennia of history for traditional marriage and that the issue has historically been decided by the people, not the courts. Two years ago, the Supreme Court even ruled that marriage policy is a state issue, but today they reversed themselves and redefined marriage over the objection of millions of people." Lankford echoed Pruitt's concern over whether the religious rights of individuals will be in conflict due the ruling, "Now the Courts will be required to also stand for the First Amendment of the Constitution and the faith traditions of millions of Americans."

Justice Anthony Kennedy acknowledged the importance of religious freedom in the written decision. Kennedy wrote, "It must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered."

The Democrat Party gave support for the ruling. Oklahoma Democratic Party Chair Mark Hammons said: "This morning, the Republican-led Supreme Court has decided, once and for all, that marriage equality is a legal right to all citizens. In a historic decision, written by a Republican justice, we can no longer deny that all citizens shall be afforded equal rights under the law. Many Oklahomans have waited decades for this day to come and many believed it would not happen in their lifetime."

Lethal Injection Opinion (Glossip v. Gross)

On June 26, the High Court also issued an opinion in Glossip v. Gross that upheld as constitutional Oklahoma's lethal injection protocol. In response to the ruling Governor Fallin said: "The Constitution is clearly not intended to prohibit the death penalty by lethal injection or the use of the sedative midazolam. I appreciate the Court's ruling, which upholds the letter and the spirit of the law as it is written. My thanks go out to Attorney General Scott Pruitt, Solicitor General Patrick Wyrick and their legal team for aggressively and successfully representing the state on this issue."

Attorney General Pruitt said: "The state of Oklahoma is vested with the authority to carry out the sentence of death handed out by juries for the most heinous of crimes. State officials act deliberately and thoughtfully in carrying out this responsibility. This marks the eighth time a court has reviewed and upheld as constitutional the lethal injection protocol used by Oklahoma. The Court's ruling preserves the ability of the Department of Corrections to proceed with carrying out the punishment of death."

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