Jon Stewart nails the absurdity of Tuesday's federal court ruling that Obamacare subsidies are illegal in 36 states. In order to arrive at that conclusion, you need to strip a few words of text away from the rest of the law, examine them hyper-literally and in isolation, and never, ever consider the overwhelming evidence provided by every other word in the statute:
Stewart commended the judges on getting past stop signs the morning of the decision. "Until the law expressly provides a 'go' sign, we can in no way ascertain the intent of the framers of the sign. Surely the people honking behind me appreciate the rigor of my judicial acumen."
Stewart is correct when he says that the opinions in the two courts split cleanly across partisan lines. In the D.C. Circuit, two Republican-appointed judges ruled that subsidies are illegal, and the lone Democrat-appointed judge on that panel dissented from the decision. The Fourth Circuit upheld subsidies, and — not coincidentally — all three judges on that panel were appointed by Democrats.
But the rulings aren't about partisan hackery, they're about the fact that judges with different ideologies approach the law differently. The conservative judges are inclined to analyze the statute very literally — though many experts believe that they're taking that literalism too far in this case, setting the law at war with itself. The liberal judges are inclined to believe that the context creates ambiguity, and that ambiguity is best left to be resolved by the agency actually implementing the law.