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Noah Feldman

Obama Can't Ignore Court on Obamacare

It would be a outrageous blow to the rule of law if the president were to say King v. Burwell only applies to its four plaintiffs.
The law applies to everyone, even folks in pink hats.

The law applies to everyone, even folks in pink hats.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Could the Barack Obama administration really ignore an adverse Supreme Court judgment in the King v. Burwell health-care litigation, as a University of Chicago law professor has proposed? Of course not. Obeying the court only with respect to the plaintiffs in this case would be a flagrant violation of the rule of law. It would put the administration in the position of flouting the court’s authority. It would be substantially more outrageous even than the Alabama Supreme Court’s order to its probate judges to ignore a federal ruling striking down the state’s anti-gay-marriage law. For these reasons, it’s also completely unrealistic.

The argument advanced by William Baude in an op-ed article in Tuesday's New York Times is based on the kind of technicality that makes people hold their nose when they smell a lawyer coming. Whenever a court decides a case, it formally binds only the parties who are involved in that case. Unless it’s a class action with a large group of plaintiffs or defendants who were identified by their circumstances rather than by their names, you can always say after any judicial decision that the case doesn’t apply to anyone who isn’t before the court.