Plain meaning

There are probably many reasons people hate lawyers, but the best reason was on display today at the Supreme Court during the arguments over King v. Burwell.

When the two bills that make up the Affordable Care Act were written, debated, and voted on, every senator and representative—whether they voted for or against the bills—understood that federal assistance would be given to low-income groups so they could afford to buy insurance on the newly formed exchanges. And they understood that assistance would be given whether the exchange was set up by a state or by the federal government. All of the Congressional staffs understood this, too, as did the lobbyists who worked for and against the bills’ passage. People who thought the bills were a disaster because they’d lead to communism understood the deal, and so did those who thought the bills were a disaster because it was a giveaway to insurance companies.

All told, the two bills comprise more than 900 pages of legislation. Today, lawyers argued before the Supreme Court that a sentence fragment within those 900 pages negates what everyone knew and knows about the purpose of the Act. But they were not laughed out of court, nor were they laughed out of the lower courts that heard this same argument.

This is not the majesty of the law, this is a trick. It’s like we’re in a fairy tale where an evil genie or a monkey’s paw will grant your wishes, but only through deliberate misinterpretation. It’s the kind of thing that makes for a clever twist at the end of a Twilight Zone episode, but it’s no way to run a country.

How can the rest of us be expected to treat the law with respect when lawyers themselves treat it like a con game? And how can we think of lawyers except as Ambrose Bierce did:

Lawyer (n.) One skilled in the circumvention of the law.