The Trump administration and a coalition of states led by Republicans are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to wait on reviewing a lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare.
The U.S. House of Representatives and state officials from a coalition of blue states asked the high court in a pair of appeals in January to take up the case and review a lower court’s decision in the court’s current term. They said 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).
At the end of January, the top court rejected their request to fast-track the appeals, but didn’t rule out a full review of the cases.
In filings on Feb. 3, the federal government and state officials from a group of conservative states said the House and Democratic-led states offered “no compelling reason” for the Supreme Court to grant a review of a case that was still being decided by a lower court. They urged the court to defer the review of the decision until after the case has completed its proceedings in the lower courts.
In December 2019, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2 to 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 the congressional action, 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.
“The court of appeals’ decision declining to resolve the severability question does not warrant this Court’s review at this juncture. As the case comes to this Court, no operative lower-court ruling exists on severability,” Solicitor General Noel Francisco wrote in the filing (pdf) for the Trump administration.
“Deferring review until the litigation in the lower courts is complete thus may help to streamline this Court’s eventual consideration if and when it considers the severability issue and to avoid a partially advisory opinion in the meantime,” he added.
He argued that there was no need to rush the case to the Supreme Court at this time as the “individual mandate no longer subjects any individual to any concrete consequence.”
“Although the court of appeals and petitioners draw different legal conclusions from the elimination of the monetary penalty, it is common ground that noncompliance with the individual mandate no longer carries any significant real-world consequence,” he wrote. “On either view of the merits—i.e., whether the elimination of the shared-responsibility payment renders the individual mandate now invalid, or valid but merely precatory—the question of the mandate’s validity is not itself a matter of any practical urgency.”
The attorneys for the coalition of red states made similar arguments (pdf) urging the Supreme Court to deny the request for the appeals, saying that the top court “should not allow petitioners to leapfrog lower-court consideration based on their own asserted ‘need for certainty.'”
The court filings were made in response to the House and Democrat-led states’ request for review. The Trump administration and state officials made similar arguments when they tried to urge the court to deny the request to expedite the review of the ruling.