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“The card says Moops”

My favorite example of mindlessly formalistic, ruthlessly result-oriented textual interpretation comes from George Costanza. In the “Bubble Boy” episode of “Seinfeld”‘s fourth season, George denied his opponent a win in Trivial Pursuit based on an obvious typo. What frustrated George’s opponent so much was the transparent bad faith displayed by George, who knew perfectly well that Spain was not invaded in the 8th century by the Moops. Today, a DC Circuit Court of Appeals panel struck down crucial Affordable Care Act (ACA) health insurance subsidies, based on a literalist reading of a statutory provision that renders the rest of the statute absurd and defies the understanding of every participant in the legislative debate about the availability of tax credits for people who bought their insurance through the federal exchange because their states refused to set up their own exchanges.  My advice to the judges in the majority in Halbig v. Burwell: when your reasoning closely resembles George Costanza’s, you might need to rethink your position (“do the opposite”?).

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3 Comments

  1. […] an opposing party’s president’s signature legislative accomplishment. It is tempting to laugh off a legal claim of the sort being offered here, but the Commerce Clause argument raised in the […]

  2. […] of repealing the subsidies. Once the law becomes more firmly entrenched, legal challenges rooted in questionable methods of statutory interpretation will seem increasingly quixotic. So supporters should be happy to see […]

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