The Affordable Care Act challenge that the U.S. Supreme Court will consider later this year, and presumably decide in June, could be the biggest case of the year. It will definitely be the most important statutory interpretation case in a long time. It's tempting, therefore, to depict it as a battle royale between the two leading theories of statutory interpretation that have been fighting it out at the court for the last two decades, known to cognoscenti as textualism and purposivism. I've certainly tended to see it that way, and in a column this week I suggested that two textualist statutory interpretation decisions written by Justice Antonin Scalia might provide a preview of what's coming.
In response to my column, I got polite but insistent e-mails from a range of scholars and legal activists urging me to think again. Although reasoning from different premises, my correspondents agreed on one thing: The Obamacare case, King v. Burwell, shouldn't be seen as a conflict between interpreting the text of the statute and interpreting the statute’s underlying purpose. Instead, they said, the case is about a conflict between the text of one fragment of the statute taken out of context and the text of the statute taken as a whole.