Ohioans received a lump of coal this Christmas and its time we poured out the Unknowncontents of our stockings and took a closer look.  In a 4-3 decision days before Christmas, the Ohio Supreme Court upheld Medicaid expansion in Ohio leaving constitutionalists scratching their heads wondering what they did to deserve such a wrong-headed ruling.

The suit, brought by six Republican state legislators and two Ohio Right to Life groups, challenged the Ohio Controlling Board’s approval of Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion.  The plaintiffs argued that the obscure administrative board acted against the intent of the State Assembly and contrary to Ohio Revised Code which states:

“The Controlling Board shall take no action which does not carry out the legislative intent of the General Assembly regarding program goals and levels of support of agencies as expressed in the prevailing appropriation acts of the General Assembly.”

Seems pretty straightforward to most lay people, but as we increasingly see, our courts can tie themselves into knots making the straightforward complex.

Legislative intent was spelled out clearly by the Ohio House and Senate both of which struck Governor Kasich’s Medicaid expansion proposal from the final version of the state budget.  To further bolster their opposition to expansion, both Houses also inserted into the budget identical language which expressly prohibited Ohio Medicaid from covering the population specified in Obamacare-directed Medicaid expansion.  Governor Kasich, however, vetoed this prohibition and the Supreme Court clung to this veto as the basis of its ruling.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor led the assault on logic and liberty arguing in the court’s opinion that legislative intent is not known until the full legislative process has run its course and the Governor has acted on a bill submitted to him by the legislature.  The Columbus Dispatch quotes from O’Connor’s opinion:

“The (groups challenging the expansion) fail in their quest because they have not adequately shown that the Controlling Board had a clear legal duty to follow the directives of the legislature when those directives are not expressed in the final, enrolled bill.”

O’Connor’s definition of legislative intent merges the action of the executive with that of the legislature blurring the separation of powers, and given that the executive has the final say, subordinating the legislature’s expressed intent to the executive’s fiat.

O’Connor argues the state legislature needed to override the governor’s veto in order to show its intent to prohibit expansion.  O’Connor’s opinion as quoted by the Columbus Dispatch reads:

“…the legislature cannot circumvent this constitutional option (to override the veto) by obtaining a writ from this court that forbids the Controlling Board to comply with the law, as that law is modified by the governor’s veto.”

But, overriding the governor’s veto requires a 3/5 majority of both the House and Senate, and as Buckeye Institute points out in its analysis, “Controlling Authority:  Why Ohio’s Controlling Board Lacks the Authority to Approve Medicaid Expansion Funding,” sets a higher standard for legislative intent than called for in the Ohio Constitution.

“In the Ohio Constitution, the General Assembly must pass bills by a simple majority…It is by this simple majority that we know which bills the legislature passed and which goals and objections the legislature sought…To suggest that in this instance (the prohibition of Medicaid expansion) we can only discern the programmatic goals and objections of the majority of the Assembly in absence of a 3/5 super-majority is a non sequitur.”

And so it ensues, non sequiturs and a lopsided view of the separation of power rule the day in the Ohio Supreme Court and deliver Ohioans a most unwelcome Christmas gift.  Not only are taxpayers on the hook for at minimum $13 billion, and more realistically, $23 billion in additional entitlement spending, but the House of the People, the State Assembly, has been relegated to second class status by an authoritarian Governor, a submissive Senate President and House Speaker who stacked the Controlling Board, and an accommodating Supreme Court.

To top it all off, Obamacare has been fully cemented into Ohio law with the aid of all branches of government under the leadership of the Republican Party.  Ohioans passed the Health Care Freedom Amendment with 66% of the statewide vote and put those who claimed opposition to Obamacare in charge of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches.  But despite all of their efforts, the people of Ohio are left saddled with a policy sure to burden our state with debt and deliver inferior health care to a group being used as pawns in a political power grab.

So as Obamacare continues to unravel, dismantle our health care system, and weaken our economy, it is only fair that elected Republicans in Ohio accept part of the blame.  Governor Kasich and the Ohio Republican Party cannot continue to claim opposition to Obamacare while going to extraordinary and questionable means to implement it.

Further reading:

Buckeye Institute, “Controlling Authority:  Why Ohio’s Controlling Board Lacks the Authority to Approve Medicaid Expansion Funding”

Ohio Supreme Court Opinion:

State ex rel. Cleveland Right to Life v. State of Ohio Controlling Bd, Slip Opinion No. 2013-Ohio-5632