On March 4, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in King v. Burwell, a tremendously important case involving the administration of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. King is important for a number of reasons. It’s important because a lot of money is at stake. It’s important because it may require fundamental changes to be made to Obamacare. And it’s important—indeed, perhaps it’s most important—because of its significant implications for the rule of law. In this Essay, I explain why the president’s actions in King were unlawful and why a ruling striking down the president’s actions is crucial to ensure the continued vitality of the rule of law.
From the early days of the Republic, a core component of our constitutional character has been the idea that our government is a government of laws and not of men. This means that our leaders—elected and appointed—are constrained by the words in our statute books and in our Constitution. Government officials must follow the law, even when their personal predilections would lead them in a different direction. This prevents arbitrary decision making and keeps executive discretion within proper bounds.