October 28, 2011

Law, Narrative, and Health Care

Kenneth D. Chestek, Indiana University School of Law (Indianapolis) has published Competing Stories: A Case Study of the Role of Narrative Reasoning in Judicial Decisions. Here is the abstract.

Within minutes after President Obama signed into law the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (derisively referred to by some as the “Obamacare” law), the lawsuits started flying. Literally dozens of suits were filed all across the country. Some were frivolous, but many others raised serious issues of federalism and the reach of Congress’ power under the Commerce Clause.

Of the initial spate of lawsuits, ultimately five were decided by various trial courts on the merits of the Commerce Clause issue. Three judges found the law constitutional, and two others found it unconstitutional. But since the issue is almost purely a question of law (it is the same Commerce Clause and the same body of Supreme Court precedent interpreting it in all five cases), the question arises: why did these cases come out differently?

The mainstream media has seized upon a political explanation: the three judges who found the law constitutional were appointed by Democratic Presidents, while the two judges who found the law unconstitutional were appointed by Republican Presidents. This article challenges that assumption, and suggests a more nuanced explanation: each of the plaintiffs in these cases had different stories to tell. The article explores narrative reasoning (defined as norm-based thinking instead of pure rule-based reasoning) as a possible explanation for the divergent results in these cases.

Download the paper from SSRN at the link.

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