SCOTUS Obamacare Hearings: The Predictions Edition

The theme, this time around, is caution.

Another set of SCOTUS arguments on a contentious issue, another chance for think pieces and predictions on just what was meant by Chief Justice John Roberts’ Thomas-like silent performance or the seriousness of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s federalism-related concerns. We’re taking a look at who’s predicted what based on today’s oral arguments in King v. Burwell, the most recent challenge to Obamacare, which questions the validity of providing subsidies to people using federal, rather than state, exchanges to purchase healthcare. Think of this post as a not-so-hidden time capsule we’ll dredge up once the court makes its decision later in the year.

The smart hedge, from BuzzFeed’s Chris Geidner (emphasis ours):

Although past arguments over Obamacare show nothing is final until a decision is rendered, a majority of the justices appeared reluctant to send Obamacare into the “death spiral” that the government warned would occur if the court ruled that the federal government is not permitted to subsidize health care under the federal exchanges.

CNN’s Ariane de Vogue is not as optimistic. “The future of health care in America is on the table,” begins her piece, “and in serious jeopardy — this morning in the Supreme Court.” Final verdict? “Divided court,” with Justices Roberts and Kennedy as the swing votes.

SCOTUSblog’s Lyle Denniston believes things are looking fairly safe for the law to be upheld, but that the trio to watch out for was Justices Samuel A. Alito, Antonin Scalia and Roberts:

On Friday morning, when the Justices start their private conversation on the case of King v. Burwell, what those three said in public in an eighty-four-minute hearing Wednesday could set the tone, and the public signs were that the tone could be mostly favorable to the government — that is, the chances seemed greater for a ruling salvaging a nationwide subsidy system that makes the new health care insurance exchanges actually work in an economic sense, thus keeping it alive.

The Washington Post‘s Robert Barnes went with the more standard ideological-divide, Kennedy-as-decider analysis, with the following glint of hope for proponents of the law:

If there was a reason for optimism for the Obama administration, it came from Justice Anthony M. Kennedy. Kennedy, a potential swing vote, questioned whether the challengers’ reading of the law—that federal tax subsidies should only be available in the 16 states and District of Columbia that have set up their own insurance marketplaces—would cause “serious constitutional problems” of coercion.

The analysis we’ve seen so far shows commendable restraint in prognostication, rather than claiming to know the meaning behind every head turn and vocabulary-word choice. This is why we appreciate the honesty of this line, from Politico’s  Jennifer Haberkorn: “The justices gave few clues about how they will rule.”