TIME 2016 Election

Inspector General Says Hillary Clinton Emails Contained Classified Information

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Stephen B. Morton—AP In this July 23, 2015 photo Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks at a campaign event in Columbia, S.C.

The Justice Department is mulling its own investigation

Federal officials have requested an investigation into a potential compromise of classified information related to the handling of documents once stored on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private email server, government officials confirmed Friday.

Clinton and her current and former aides have not been named as targets of the investigation, and the scope of the investigation request has not been revealed.

A Department of Justice official confirmed to TIME Friday morning that there had been a “criminal referral.” Later that same day, the official sent an updated statement: “The Department has received a referral related to the potential compromise of classified information. It is not a criminal referral,” it read.

Even if Clinton is not targeted in the probe, a Justice Department inquiry could be used to tar her presidential campaign. Her decision to use a private account for government business, and then choosing to delete ostensibly personal information from the server has already contributed to a decline in Clinton’s favorability rating and has provoked questions about her trustworthiness.

I. Charles McCullough III, the inspector general for the intelligence community, voiced concerns in a July 23 memo over information that passed through Clinton’s email server, was later given to her personal lawyer and returned to the State Department. McCullough said the data should have been treated with greater sensitivity, since it was derived from classified information produced by the U.S. intelligence community.

Clinton has repeatedly said she never allowed information that was marked classified to pass across her private email. “There have been a lot of inaccuracies,” she said on Friday of the latest reports. “Maybe the heat is getting to everybody. We all have a responsibility to get this right. I have released 55,000 pages of emails, I have said repeatedly that I will answer questions before the House Committee. We are all accountable to the American people to get the facts right, and I will do my part.”

None of the investigating bodies, in Congress or elsewhere, have accused Clinton of wrongdoing. But questions have been raised about the judgement of State Department officials. “We note that none of the emails we reviewed had classification or dissemination markings, but some included [intelligence community]-derived classified information and should have been handled as classified, appropriately marked, and transmitted via a secure network,” wrote McCullough, the inspector general for the intelligence community, who described his review as incomplete.

A spokeswoman for McCullough, Andrea Williams, said Friday that there are at least four emails of concern, which have yet to be released by the State Department under the Freedom of Information Act. “They were not marked at all but contained classified information,” she wrote in an email to TIME Friday.

If documents had not initially been marked as classified, agency heads generally have significant legal leeway to decide how to classify most information, with the exception of some categories, like nuclear secrets, which are deemed classified by statute.

“The thing to understand about the classification system is that it is an administrative decision that is rooted in executive order,” said Steven Aftergood, a government secrecy expert at the Federation of American Sciences. “The president delegates authority to agency heads. It’s up to an agency head to decide if something is properly classified or not.”

The request for an investigation, first reported by the New York Times, is in reference to “hundreds of potentially classified emails” contained among Clinton’s messages.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the House committee investigating Benghazi, denied Friday that there was any criminal referral. “I spoke personally to the State Department inspector general on Thursday, and he said he never asked the Justice Department to launch a criminal investigation of Secretary Clinton’s email usage,” Cummings wrote in a statement. “This is the latest example in a series of inaccurate leaks to generate false front-page headlines − only to be corrected later − and they have absolutely nothing to do with the attacks in Benghazi or protecting our diplomatic corps overseas.”

In May, when releasing the first batch of Clinton emails to the public, the State Department, at the request of the intelligence community, classified 23 words of an email relating to the arrest of a suspected assailant in the 2012 Benghazi attack which killed four Americans.

A senior State Department official told TIME then that the retroactive classification does not mean Clinton did anything improper, adding “this happens several times a month” when Freedom of Information Act reports are prepared for the public. The executive order under which the classification program operates allows for the reclassification of information, either because of initial misclassification or because subsequent events have made the information more sensitive.

At the time, the State Department said, the email was unclassified while it resided on Clinton’s server and when it was sent to the House Select Committee on Benghazi. McCullough, the inspector general, told Congress that he believes copies of the emails were also placed on a thumb drive that was given to David Kendall, Clinton’s personal attorney at Williams and Connelly.

In a statement, Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill brushed back on the assertion that Clinton had done anything wrong, noting that the New York Times had also changed the language of its initial story. At first, the Times described “a criminal investigation into whether Hillary Rodham Clinton mishandled sensitive government information.” That was changed to “a criminal investigation into whether sensitive government information was mishandled in connection with the personal email account Hillary Rodham Clinton.”

“Contrary to the initial story, which has already been significantly revised, she followed appropriate practices in dealing with classified materials,” Merrill said. “As has been reported on multiple occasions, any released emails deemed classified by the administration have been done so after the fact, and not at the time they were transmitted.”

In a March news conference, Clinton denied that she used the unsecured account for classified information. “I did not email any classified material to anyone on my email,” she said. “There is no classified material. So I’m certainly well aware of the classification requirements and did not send classified material.”

In a statement Friday, Speaker of the House John Boehner criticized Clinton for “mishandling” classified email, though it is not yet clear whether that claim is a part of the potential Justice Department probe. He encouraged Clinton to turn over her private server to Congress for further investigation.

“Secretary Clinton has repeatedly claimed that the work-related emails on her private home server did not include classified information, but we know that is not true,” Boehner said. “She has claimed she is well-aware of what matters are classified and what are not, and yet she set up a personal email server to discuss matters of national security despite guidance to the contrary from both her State Department and the White House. Her poor [judgment] has undermined our national security and it is time for her to finally do the right thing.”

The State Department is in the midst of a review of 55,000 pages of emails from Clinton’s server, and is under court order to produce them regularly to the public in order to comply with overdue Freedom of Information Act requests.

The inspectors general of both the State Department and the intelligence community have asked the State Department to review the Clinton emails in a more highly classified environment, “given it is more likely than not” that such records exist in her messages. The department has declined, citing resource constraints.

In her public comments on the server issue, Clinton has at times been less than forthright, telling CNN earlier this month that she hadn’t received a subpoena for the records, for instance, when she had.

“The truth is everything I did was permitted and I went above and beyond what anybody could have expected in making sure that if the State Department didn’t capture something, I made a real effort to get it to them,” Clinton told CNN this month. But Clinton was under a legal obligation to preserve all messages pertaining to her work and to hand them over to the State Department.

TIME 2016 Election

Donald Trump Heaps Insults on Lindsey Graham, Jeb Bush, Hillary Clinton, Other Foes

Unrepentant, unleashed, on attack

A triumphant and unrepentant Donald Trump launched a barrage of personal attacks and name-calling on his campaign rivals Tuesday, most notably calling South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham an “idiot” and handing out Graham’s cell phone number to the whole world.

He dismissed former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush as “weak on immigration,” and mocked Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s glasses and Hillary Clinton’s hand wave.

“What a stiff, what a stiff, Lindsey Graham. By the way he has registered zero in the polls,” Trump said, at an appearance in Bluffton, S.C. “A total lightweight. In the private sector, he couldn’t get a job.”

Earlier in the day, Graham called Trump a “jackass.” In response, Trump called Graham an “idiot” and held up a card that included Graham’s personal phone number, then asked his supporters to call Graham. “I don’t know, give it a shot,” he said.

Graham’s campaign manager, Christian Ferry, said in a statement that Trump “continues to show hourly that he is ill-prepared to be commander-in-chief.”

“Because of Trump’s bombastic and ridiculous campaign, we aren’t talking about [President] Obama’s horrible deal with Iran or Hillary Clinton’s plans to continue Obama’s failed national security agenda,” Ferry continued.

Trump’s rambling address found several other targets. “Bush said my tone is not right,” Trump said about another rival. “I said, ‘Tone, we need tone, we need enthusiasm, we need tone.'”

“I’m not a fan of Jeb Bush,” he went on. “Jeb bush is in favor of Common Core and he is weak on immigration. . . . Who would you rather have negotiating with China. Trump or Jeb? Or Trump or Hillary?” When he mentioned former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, he waved his hand to pantomime her approach to diplomacy.

There were others that played the role of Trump targets, including the senior Senator from Arizona. “John McCain is totally about open borders and all of this stuff,” he continued, describing his anger against the Arizona senator who called some in Trump’s crowds “crazies.” “I know crazies. These are patriotic Americans.”

“I think Rick Perry is probably smarter than Lindsey Graham. But what do I know?” he said, after mocking Perry’s new glasses—”He’s got the glasses, oh oh oh.” Trump previously tweeted that Rick Perry should have an IQ test before getting on the debate stage, a comment he repeated in South Carolina. “I think Rick Perry is probably smarter than Lindsey Graham. But what do I know?” he said.

“The reason they are hitting me in all fairness,” Trump continued. “When you are registering zero in the polls, you’ve got nothing to lose.”

He repeated many of the central themes of his campaign, planning to change American leadership and make the country great. “If you can’t get rich dealing with politicians, there is probably something wrong with you,” he said. “These politicains they run and they run and they win and they lose. . . . They don’t do anything when the get there. I know better than anyone.”

As it now stands, Trump leads the national Republican primary polls. A Washington Post poll, completed late last week, found that 24% of Republicans and Republican leaning independents supported Trump’s candidacy. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker held second place with 13% support.

The speech started and ended with bluster. “I don’t use tele-prompters,” he said, when he came out on stage. “I don’t like. They’re too easy.”

Read next: Like It or Not, Donald Trump Is News

Listen to the most important stories of the day

TIME Bill Cosby

Obama Says He Can’t Revoke Bill Cosby’s Presidential Medal Of Freedom

The president also condemned the behavior Cosby has been accused of committing

President Obama said Wednesday that he did not have the ability to revoke Bill Cosby’s Presidential Medal of Freedom in the wake of more than two dozen accusations of sexual misconduct against the comedian.

“There is no precedent for revoking the medal,” he said, during a press conference in the East Room. “We don’t have the mechanism.”

He declined to comment on the specifics of the Cosby allegations, citing the ongoing civil cases against the entertainer and the possibility of criminal charges. But he did take the opportunity to condemn the sort of behavior that Cosby has been accused of perpetrating.

“If you give a woman or a man for that matter, without his or her knowledge, a drug and then have sex with that person without consent—that’s rape,” he said. “Any civilized country should have no tolerance for rape.”

The presidential medal of freedom was given to Cosby in 2002 by President George W. Bush, years before a civil case filed against Cosby for sexual misconduct triggered a wave of allegations.

Since then Cosby has been accused by more than two dozen women of sexual misconduct, including several cases of drugging and raping women over several decades. This summer it was revealed that Cosby had admitted in a once-sealed court deposition that he had obtained quaaludes, a prescription drug, with the intent of giving them to women with whom he hoped to have sex.

Senators Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Claire McCaskill of Missouri have supported a petition effort calling on Obama to revoke the medal. “She supports this group’s effort because we need to set a clear example that sexual assault will not be tolerated in this country, and someone who admitted to using drugs for sex no longer deserves the nation’s highest honor,” said Glen Caplin, a spokesman for Gillibrand, in a statement to Politico.

TIME White House

Obama Attacks Critics of Iran Nuclear Deal

The President comes out swinging

President Obama challenged his critics Wednesday with a muscular defense of his deal with Iran to curb its nuclear program, describing the deal as the only path forward to avoid a military confrontation with the Persian nation.

“No one has presented to me or the American people a better alternative,” he said, during a midday press conference in the East Room, which seemed, at times, more like a lecture than a question-and-answer session. “I am hearing a lot of talk that this is a bad deal. … What I haven’t heard is what is your preferred alternative.”

“The reason is because there are really only two alternatives here,” he continued. “Either the issue of Iran receiving a nuclear weapon is resolved diplomatically or it is done through force.”

He said arguments that the deal should have addressed broader concerns about Iran, including the countries human rights record and support for terrorism, “defies logic and makes no sense.” “My hope is that building on this deal we can continue to have conversations with Iran that incentivize them to behave differently,” he said. “But we are not counting on it.”

The agreement reduces the current Iranian stockpile of low-enriched uranium by 98%, restricts its acquisition of new nuclear fuel for 15 years, and restricts its own research on nuclear technologies for 10 years. In exchange, Iran is rewarded with sanctions relief that could lead to hundreds of billions in economic boost to the economy, along with an ending of a conventional weapons arms embargo against Iran in five years and an embargo against ballistic missile technology imports in 8 years, if the country continues to live up to its commitments.

Republicans in Congress have vowed to attempt to block the deal, though the president has promised to veto any effort to change details of the agreement. There is little evidence that Republicans and Democrats who oppose the deal would be able to.

“I expect the debate to be robust and that’s how it should be,” Obama said. “I’m not betting on the Republican Party rallying behind this agreement. I do expect the debate to be based on facts and not speculation. And that I welcome.”

Read Next: What to Know About the Iran Nuclear Deal

TIME Iran

What to Know About the Iran Nuclear Deal

A brief guide to what happened and what's next

The U.S. and other world powers announced a deal with Iran early Tuesday to curb its nuclear program in exchange for giving the country relief from economic sanctions. Here’s what you need to know.

How did this deal come about?

For decades, Iran has been working to develop nuclear fuel that the U.S. worried could be used to create a nuclear weapon. In recent years, American intelligence officials have warned that Iran is “keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons,” and had acquired low-enriched uranium, which could theoretically be used to make the fissile material necessary for a nuclear weapon.

Shortly after President Obama took office, the United States joined with other major powers, including China and Russia, to put crippling economic sanctions on Iran to pressure the country to abandon its nuclear program. Over the last two years, Iran and the U.S. have been negotiating to remove those sanctions in exchange for a dismantling of the nuclear program and an ongoing regime of inspections.

So what’s in the deal?

The basic trade is this: Iran will get relief from sanctions, including access to international oil markets, which will bring it a windfall of about $100 billion. In exchange, Iran must dispose of most of its low-enriched uranium, stop efforts to produce or acquire more nuclear fuel, and consent to an inspections regime meant to ensure that the country does not cheat in its promise not to pursue a nuclear weapon over the next decade. The inspections will be overseen by the International Atomic Energy Agency, an intergovernmental group headquartered in Austria. “Because of this deal, we will, for the first time, be in a position to verify all of these commitments,” Obama said Tuesday morning. “That means this deal is not built on trust; it is built on verification. Inspectors will have 24/7 access to Iran’s key nuclear facilities.”

How is the world reacting to the deal?

The world’s major nuclear powers appear to be on board, and the United Nations Security Council is expected to take action in the coming weeks to remove sanctions. Iran’s regional neighbors, however, are less pleased. Saudi Arabia, a Sunni Muslim nation, is wary that the deal will allow Shiite Iran to grow as a regional and world power. Similarly, Israel, a longtime military foe of Iran, opposes the deal. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the deal a “historic mistake for the world.” He continued, “Iran will receive hundreds of billions of dollars with which it can fuel its terror machine and its expansion and aggression throughout the Middle East and across the globe.”

How are American political leaders reacting to the deal?

Republican presidential candidates are uniformly against the deal, and have promised to make it a central part of the coming campaign. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker called it “one of America’s worst diplomatic failures.” South Carolina Sen. Lindsay Graham described it as “far worse than I ever dreamed it could be.” Republicans in the Senate will seek Democratic allies in the coming month in an effort to vote to block the deal.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, is supporting the deal.

Obama has promised to veto any congressional effort to change the agreement, and there is little chance that Republicans will get the two-thirds majority needed to override that veto.

TIME Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton’s New Mantra: It’s the Wages, Stupid

Decoding a major economic address from the Democratic frontrunner

It’s the wages, stupid.

That’s the magic sauce—in just four words—that Hillary Clinton believes will make her the next President of the United States. In a speech Monday to lay out her approach, she chose a more verbose version of the same message. “Wages need to rise to keep up with costs. Paychecks need to grow. Families who work hard and do their part deserve to get ahead and stay ahead,” she said. “The defining economic challenge of our time clear. We must raise incomes for hardworking Americans.”

As a theme, the approach is not new. A chart showing the divergence between median income growth and productivity growth over the last decade sat at the heart of Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign for President. “‘I’m working harder and falling behind,'” David Simas, Obama’s political strategist, explained after the 2012 election. “That was the North Star. Everything we did and everything we said was derivative of that sentiment.” As she spoke Monday, Clinton’s campaign tweeted out a version of the same chart that once hung at Obama’s Chicago campaign headquarters and now hangs in Simas’ West Wing office.

The difference now is that Clinton inherits a situation that is even more dire for American voters than the one that Obama struggled with over his past two campaigns, both of which promised improvement for middle class incomes that has yet to arrive. Even as the labor market has tightened in recent years and the national economy has continued to grow, wages have remained flat or, in many cases, declined.

A recent analysis of Census data by Democratic economist Robert J. Shapiro, whose work helped inform the Obama campaign’s approach, found that the economy shifted gears for American incomes after the 2001 recession. “Everybody declines from 2002 on relative to the 1980s and 1990s, and probably a majority of the country saw their incomes decline as they age,” he said, noting that unlike many economic indicators, this is one that voters feel directly. “It’s politically important because it’s people’s actual experience.” Shapiro found that the only two groups who saw their incomes increase on average between 2002 and 2013 were college graduates and households that were in their early 20s at the beginning of the decade.

To counteract this shift, Clinton proposed a variety of policy buckets she plans to focus on, many of which she did not detail. These include tax changes that will encourage large companies to share profits with employees, tax increases for the wealthy and new regulations of the financial sector. “The truth is the current rules for our economy do reward some work, like financial trading, for example much more than other work, like actually building and selling things, the work that has always been the backbone of our economy,” she said. “To get all incomes rising again, we need to strike a better balance.”

The focus on wages also gives a frame for Clinton to roll out a raft of other evergreen liberal policies, which could have indirect impacts on wage growth. These include better family leave policies to encourage more women to enter the workforce, lower health care costs, better early childhood education subsidies, more spending on infrastructure and “enhancing” Social Security.

Overall, the rhetoric draws heavily on the work of the left wing of the Democratic Party, including Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Clinton Administration economist Joseph Stiglitz. Though Clinton stopped short of calling for redistribution of wealth to combat inequality, a constant theme of the left, she did embrace the notion that the current economic stagnation for many Americans is a policy choice. “The choices we make in the years ahead will set the stage for what American life in the middle class and our economy will be like in this century,” she said.

At two points, Clinton contrasted her vision with the Obama Administration. First, she criticized the Justice Department and regulators for not being aggressive enough in prosecuting the misdeeds of financial firms. She also called for more financial regulation. “I will appoint and empower regulators who understand that too big to fail is still too big a problem,” she said, in a swipe at Obama, who has argued that the problem of too-big-to-fail was largely solved by financial reform in 2010.

Perhaps most important, the speech set up a contrast with Republican frontrunner Jeb Bush, who has laid out an economic vision of rising prosperity based on growing the whole economy by 4% annually, a target that few economists think can be reached. Clinton’s argument is that total growth is not enough. There also needs to be a reshuffling of the rules that makes the gains from that growth more widely distributed.

The question for Clinton is much the same as the challenge faced by Obama. She may have diagnosed the disease in a way that the American people have endorsed in the past, but can she deliver the antidote? Republicans, who have a dramatically different world view, have been able to block many of Obama’s reforms, and would likely have similar power under a Hillary Clinton Administration. There is also a skepticism, shared by many liberal economists, about just how much the reforms she laid out will impact incomes, which have been under pressure because technology and global competition have put a cap on prices and an increase in the unemployment rolls.

But that is a question for a later time. The first jobs for Clinton are to win the nomination and then the White House. And by borrowing heavily from her successful predecessor, her team believes she has a winning formula.

TIME Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton’s Trustworthy Trap

Former Secretary of State and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton addresses supporters at an organizational rally on July 7, 2015 at the Iowa City Public Library in Iowa City, Iowa.
David Greedy—2015 Getty Images Former Secretary of State and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton addresses supporters at an organizational rally on July 7, 2015 at the Iowa City Public Library in Iowa City, Iowa.

Unforced factual errors tarnish an early interview

Trustworthiness is a tricky thing in politics, a label that everyone demands but no one fully deserves. The reason has less to do with the integrity of the players than the rules of the game. Distortion, denial, defamation—they all work. Only a straight-talking sucker would really play it straight all the time.

So one must be careful not to pass too harsh a judgement on Hillary Clinton, for whom polls reveal a real perception problem when it comes to being honest or trustworthy. CNN’s national polling sample says 57% of Americans don’t think she is either. ABC News and the Wall Street Journal put that number at 52%.

In an interview with CNN on Tuesday, Hillary Clinton blamed the numbers on her political enemies. “This has been a theme that has been used against me and my husband for many, many years,” she said. “And at the end of the day, I think voters sort it all out.”

Then she proceeded to demonstrate why voters may not ultimately come down on her side. While casting herself as the victim of false smears, she mischaracterized the circumstances surrounding her handling of records kept in a private email server Secretary of State. The comment that set off the fact checkers was a five-word sentence.

“I’ve never had a subpoena,” Clinton said, even though she has been subpoenaed. Her allies tried to clean up the flub the next day by explaining that she seemed to be answering a narrower question than the one that was asked. “Obviously everyone—including Secretary Clinton—knows Chairman Gowdy issued a subpoena,” explained Maryland Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the ranking member of the committee that issued the subpoena. “It appears clear that Secretary Clinton was answering a question about whether she deleted emails ‘while facing a subpoena.’ ”

But Clinton’s interview betrayed a larger pattern of dissembling, based either on a misunderstanding or a misrepresentation of the rules and law. “When I mailed anybody in the government, it would go into the government system,” she said. “Now I didn’t have to turn over anything. I chose to turn over 55,000 pages because I wanted to go above and beyond what was expected of me because I knew the vast majority of everything that was official already was in the State Department system.”

This is not true. She was required by law and rule to turn over the official records that she stored on her private server. “At the time she left office, the existing rules that were in place said that she was under a duty to transfer to an official record keeping system any email records on a commercial account that pertained to official business,” says Jason R. Baron, a lawyer at Drinker Biddle, and former director of litigation at the National Archives.

Federal records are legally defined to include all recorded information made “in connection with the transaction of public business” that show “evidence of the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations, or other activities of the United States Government.” As Clinton’s office has admitted, this would include emails she sent and received about government business that did not ever show up in official State Department email accounts.

Federal rules (36 CFR 1234.24) clearly require agencies to collect those records from “external electronic mail systems” so that they can be stored inside the government. There is also a federal law (44 USC 3106) that authorizes agencies to take legal action through the Attorney General “for the recovery of records” that are threatened by destruction, deletion or erasure. Willfully destroying a federal record is a crime, punishable by fine and prison.

How did Clinton get it all so wrong? Her campaign has not volunteered a response. But it is clear that she was recounting her email story as part of a larger effort to portray herself as a victim of political enemies. “This is being blown up with no basis in law or in fact. That’s fine. I get it,” she told CNN. “This is being, in effect, used by the Republicans in the Congress, OK. But I want people to understand what the truth is.”

There is an irony here worthy of Shakespeare. In fighting back against what she sees as unfounded attacks, she threatens to become the thing her foes always accused her of being—not someone who can be seen as honest or trustworthy.

Read next: How Elizabeth Warren’s Populist Fury is Remaking Democratic Politics

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TIME Supreme Court

Supreme Court Rules That a Typo Should Not Undo Obamacare

Justices ruled by a margin of 6 to 3 that the intent of Congress was clear enough to override contradictory language in law itself.

In the end, an apparent legislative typo did not bring down Obamacare.

President Obama’s signature health care law survived a second challenge at the U.S. Supreme Court Thursday, with the Justices ruling by a margin of 6 to 3 that the intent of Congress was clear enough to override contradictory language in law itself.

The decision was a major win for Democrats and the President, who would have faced the difficult task of negotiating a fix to the law with Republicans had the court decided that a specific clause in the law invalidated tax subsidies for millions of Americans. That negotiation could have resulted in either a collapse of the health insurance reforms in a majority of states, or a significant paring back of their reach.

At issue was a clause in the law that stated that federal tax subsidies for health insurance purchases were only available in insurance marketplaces, known as exchanges, that had been set up by states. The court had been asked to decide whether the plain meaning of that clause invalidated subsidies for the 34 states, and about 6.4 million Americans, who received subsidies after buying healthcare through an insurance marketplace operated by the federal government. Democrats argued that the clause was little more than a typo made in the rush to enact the law.

The court ruled that the full context of the law made clear that Congress had not intended to bar subsidies for insurance purchased on the federal exchanges. “It is implausible that Congress meant the Act to operate” as challengers of the law had argued, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his decision.

“The tax credits are among the Act’s key reforms, involving billions of dollars in spending each year and affecting the price of health insurance for millions of people,” Roberts continued. “Whether those credits are available on Federal Exchanges is thus a questions of deep ‘economic and political significance’ that is central to this statutory scheme; had Congress wished to assign that question to an agency, it surely would done so expressly.”

In an aside, the Chief Justice chided Congress for sloppiness in writing the law. “The Affordable Care Act … contains more than a few examples of inartful drafting,” Roberts wrote.

The three most conservative Justices on the court, Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, wrote a bristling dissent to Roberts, suggesting that the court majority could not read the plain language before them. “You would think the answer would be obvious—so obvious there would hardly be a need for the Supreme Court to hear a case about it,” Scalia wrote.

They argued that by deciding to give more weight to the context of the entire law than the plain language of a specific section, the Supreme Court was effectively rewriting the law. “Our only evidence of what Congress meant comes from the terms of the law, and those terms show beyond all question that tax credits are available only on state exchanges,” Scalia wrote, citing the specific passage. “More importantly, the Court forgets that ours is a government of laws and not of men. That means we are governed by the terms of our laws, not by the unenacted will of our lawmakers.”

Scalia also added a rhetorical flourish to his dissent typical of his more animated opinions. Using an acronym for the Supreme Court of the United States, he suggested taking the President’s name out of the common vernacular for his signature law. “We should start calling this law SCOTUScare,” Scalia wrote.

But such jibes were not enough to sway a strong majority of the court. “In a democracy, the power to make law rests with those chosen by the people,” Roberts concluded in his opinion. “Our role is more confined—’to say what the law is.’ That is easier in some cases than in others. But in every case we must respect the role of the Legislature, and take care not to undo what it has done. ”

 

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