In a relatively brief, concise Order and Opinion, U.S. District Judge Ronald A. White (Eastern District, Oklahoma) has set aside a notorious IRS rule declaring that subsidies and mandates under the Affordable Care Act apply in states with federal as well as state-run health care “Exchanges.” The Order and Opinion in Pruitt v. Burwell agreed with the D.C. Circuit’s holding in Halbig v. Burwell, currently pending on en banc consideration, that the statutory language—an exchange “established by the State”—could not be read to include exchanges established by the federal government in and on behalf of the state. The District Court disagreed with the Fourth Circuit’s conclusion that the statutory language was ambiguous and that the IRS rule could stand. That decision, King v. Burwell, is pending on the plaintiffs’ petition for certiorari.
Judge White’s opinion is noteworthy for its insistence that ordinary canons of statutory construction must not be set aside in big, controversial cases. Among those canons is the elementary proposition that it is not the courts’ business to fix legislative mistakes. If the statute says something other than what Congress meant it to say, it’s up to Congress to fix it.