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Friday, November 14, 2014

Scalia on retirees losing their health insurance: “I can’t feel bad about it.”

By Trevor Boeckmann

AFJ Dorot Fellow

It’s no surprise to see the majority on the United States Supreme Court siding against consumers, employees, and everyday Americans. In the past, we’ve told you about the Court upholding forced arbitration clauses that keep those harmed by big businesses out of court, preventing women from banding together to stop employment discrimination, and allowing employers to impose their religious views on employees.

At some point, one would think the majority would start to feel bad about how their actions affect us. Apparently not.

This week, the Court heard oral arguments in a case involving health insurance for retirees.
 M&G Polymers USA, LLC v. Tackett involves a chemical company in West Virginia that had a series of collective bargaining agreements with its employees’ union. At issue was a clause in the agreement that said retired employees “will receive a full company contribution towards the cost of [health] benefits.” The union argued the benefits were guaranteed for life. The company argued it could take away these benefits whenever it chose—which it did in 2007.

As Professors Susan Cancelosi and Charlotte Garden wrote in a previous post: “The equitable case for retirees is compelling: they devoted their working lives to their employer with the expectation that they would then have health insurance to see them through their retirement.” Compelling, unless you’re Justice Antonin Scalia.

During oral argument, Justice Scalia mused:
 You know, the nice thing about a contract case of this sort is you can’t feel bad about it.  Whoever loses deserves to lose. I mean, this thing [the duration of the health benefits] is obviously an important feature.  Both sides knew it was left unaddressed, so, you know, whoever loses deserves to lose for casting this upon us when it could have been said very clearly in the contract.  Such an important feature.  So I hope we’ll get it right, but, you know, I can’t feel bad about it.

 Justice Stephen Breyer was quick to disagree:

Well, you know, the workers who discover they’ve been retired for five years and don’t have any health benefits might feel a little bad about it.

Listen to the comments of Justice Scalia and Justice Breyer:

This is nothing new for Justice Scalia.  Last year, he compared the LGBT community to “child abusers” and referred to the Voting Rights Acts as a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.”
And if the majority sides with the chemical company, that won’t be anything new either.

1 comment:

James Herbst said...

Unfortunately, Scalia's "strict constructionist" views appear to go beyond Constitutional interpretations to also include contract law. Put simply, Scalia's opinion is "if it ain't clearly expressed in writing, it ain't so". Such a point of view is all to common in the Take No Prisoners world of business nowadays. Many years ago, an executive of a major brewery lamented to me. " We used to do business on a handshake. Now we need a battery of lawyers."
Someday this will all catch up with us.