Monday, March 25, 2013

Conservative Justices Decry Having the Supreme Court Serve as a Legislative Body – but in a North Carolina case, WOS v. E. M. A. Dissent They Do Just That

Because They Don’t Like the Outcome – They Seek to Change The Law

One of the many frustrating things about Conservatives is their lack of intellectual consistency.  When principles lead to an out come they like, they accept it.  When the same principle leads to an outcome they don’t like, they reject it.  On trial to illustrate this is the dissent in a just reported Supreme Court case, essentially the state of North Carolina vs. a disabled child.

The issue is rather straightforward.  The state of North Carolina has a law that says one/third of any settlement for damages must go to the state to reimburse it for Medicaid expenses, if Medicaid paid expenses.  There is a Federal law that overrules this, it says that unless the medical expenses were specified or identified, the state cannot arbitrarily take any money from the settlement. 

The decision of the Supreme Court, six to three basically said the law is the law.  North Carolina cannot override the Federal statutes.

North Carolina’s law is pre-empted insofar as it would permitthe State to take a portion of a Medicaid beneficiary’s tort judgment or settlement not designated for medical care. It directly conflictswith the federal Medicaid statute and therefore “must give way.” PLIVA, Inc. v. Mensing, 564 U. S. ___, ___.

and the case was so clear that even strong conservative Justice Alito agreed.  But for the other conservatives on the court, Roberts, Scalia and Thomas, allowing a Medicaid patient to keep money from a settlement went against their wishes.  So they dissented.

Here is what bothered the conservatives

According to the Court, however, because North Carolina’s law provides no “mechanism for determining whether it is a reasonable approximation in any particular case,” ibid., (emphasis added), it “directly conflict[s]” with the “clear mandate” of the federal Medicaid statute, and is therefore preempted. Ante, at 7 (quoting PLIVA, Inc. v. Mensing, 564 U. S. __, __ (2011) (slip op., at 11) (internal quotation marks omitted)), 10. This reflects a basic policy judgment: that segregating medical expenses from a lump ­sum recovery must be done on a case-specific, after-the ­fact basis, rather than pursuant to a general rule spelled out in advance.

But see that is exactly what the law says.  If the state wants to take money from a settlement it has to show it is entitled to that money, not just pass a law saying hey, one third is ours.  This is a bedrock principle of U. S. law.

So no, a state cannot just arbitrarily take a person’s money.  In fact, this would seem to be a basic principle that is a large part of conservative dogma.  But because the outcome in this situation went against what the conservative Justices wanted, they dissented.  They want the state legislature to have the power to arbitrarily take one third of a settlement regardless of any merits of that taking because this involved Medicaid, something poor people get.   

Ok, not a case that affects most of us, but a case that demonstrates the hypocrisy of the conservative Justices.  For that we thank them for showing, at least in this instance, what we all know to be true but sometimes have trouble illustrating.

No comments:

Post a Comment