Supreme Court Denies House, Blue States’ Effort to Fast-Track Obamacare Appeals

January 21, 2020 Updated: January 22, 2020
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The Supreme Court has rejected requests by the House of Representatives and Democratic-led states to expedite a review of a lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or Obamacare, meaning the future of the health care law is unlikely to be decided until after the 2020 presidential election.

Lawmakers and state officials from a coalition of blue states asked the high court in a pair of appeals earlier this month to take up the case and review the lower court’s decision on an expedited schedule. They argued that the court’s expeditious consideration is necessary because of the uncertainty the lower court’s decision has on health insurance and the health care marketplace, as well as for millions of Americans who have purchased coverage under Obamacare (pdf).

In December 2019, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2–1 that a key tenet of Obamacare was unconstitutional. The judges in the majority said a provision in the law, referred to as the “individual mandate,” which required people to obtain health insurance or pay a tax penalty, was invalid after Congress removed the tax penalty in 2017, rendering the law unenforceable.

Following Congress’s amendment, a group of red states and two private individuals filed a lawsuit claiming that the provision was no longer constitutional and that the entire ACA needed to be invalidated because the provision was inseverable from the rest of the law.

A district court judge in Texas found in favor of the plaintiffs, prompting an appeal to the appeals court. The appeals court upheld the plaintiffs’ constitutional claims and sent the case back to the district court for a more detailed review of the question of severability.

In a brief order (pdf), the justices denied the Democratic-led House and blue states’ motions to fast-track the appeals, but didn’t rule out a full review of the cases.

The Trump administration, which has declined to defend the ACA, had urged the high court to deny the motions filed by the Democrats. They argued that there was no rush for the Supreme Court to consider the case because the district court needed to make a decision on the issue of severability before the top court should take up the case.

“As the case comes to this court, no lower-court ruling exists on severability or the appropriate remedy. Far from being urgently needed, this court’s review thus would be premature,” Solicitor General Noel Francisco wrote in the filing (pdf) for the Trump administration.

“Absent any operative ruling invalidating the ACA’s other provisions in the interim, the accelerated review petitioners seek is unnecessary,” he added.

He said instead of intervening, the court should let the lower courts complete their own consideration of the question of severability.

California’s Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a Twitter statement that he hopes the top court would grant their review. California is one of the states appealing the case.

“The health and wellbeing of millions of our loved ones who rely on the ACA for healthcare is too important. We will do everything in our power to keep fighting for them,” he said.

It’s still unclear whether the Supreme Court will take up the case this year, given its busy docket. If the court decides to hear the challenge, it would likely be heard in the court’s next term, which begins in October.

The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request by The Epoch Times for comment. Attorneys for the House also didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Update: The article has been updated on Jan. 22 to include Californian Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s statement.

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