September 25, 2012
From Cases to Statutes: A “Validity” Note for All, Some, or None
As the day of the United States Supreme Court opinion on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act neared, the editors who work on the United States Code Annotated (USCA) prepared for potentially widespread effects on Thomson Reuters’ USCA publication.
The legislation at issue affected 657 USCA documents in some way. Closely related legislation affected at least another 50 documents.
Speculating about the legal aspects of the pending case was entertaining lunch time discussion for the USCA team. On the job, however, the potentially massive breadth of the opinion posed a significant challenge. The team predicted at least four options for the practical statutory results of the Supreme Court’s opinion:
- amendments to all 700+ USCA documents are unconstitutional
- all amendments from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act are unconstitutional
- some amendments are unconstitutional
- no amendments are unconstitutional
Regardless of the result of the Supreme Court’s decision, the USCA team knew that our customers would have the same question: “I heard this statute was affected by health care legislation – is it still valid after the decision?”
The USCA team adopted a two-step approach to provide general editorial content, supplemented by specific editorial content.
The first step, general editorial content, was to put a note on all sections affected by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. This general approach covered the bases on the statutory impact of the Supreme Court’s decision. Any Westlaw user with a question about a statute’s continued validity could quickly answer that question.
On the day of the opinion’s release, this note was published to all affected documents. By that afternoon, anyone who had heard about the Supreme Court’s decision could link directly from the following note directly to the case opinion:
For constitutionality of provisions of , see National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, .
Whatever its long-term historical and legal impact may be, the Supreme Court’s opinion was narrow in its application to USCA text. Only one document, , Operation of State plans for medical assistance, was held unconstitutional in some way.
The following day, after reviewing the Supreme Court’s opinion and holdings, the USCA team drafted and placed the following “Validity” note on 42 USCA 1396c:
In National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, 2012 WL 2427810, the United States Supreme Court determined that this section is unconstitutional as applied.
This note provides a specific warning to any user relying upon the text of this section, summarizes the Supreme Court’s opinion, and links the user directly to the Supreme Court opinion.
While the Supreme Court opinion only affected one document and was narrow in scope, the processes followed by the team ensure that customers are relying on accurate and on-point results.