On Thursday, the Supreme Court rejected Texas and other Republican-dominated states’ challenge to the Affordable Care Act, thereby upholding 2010 health care overhaul law. The court concluded that plaintiffs lacked standing to bring such cases after Congress reduced penalty penalties for failing to obtain insurance to zero.
What is the court’s decision?
The Court found that the challengers lacked standing, an essential requirement of legal challenges. Without evidence demonstrating injury caused by the elimination of individual mandates, they lacked standing to challenge this law and thus could not sue over it.
Justice Breyer held that the government can use its authority to regulate interstate commerce to require people to have health insurance, but cannot impose penalties against those who refuse. This ruling preserved the heart of ACA.
Justice Alito disagreed with this viewpoint and would have found standing for plaintiffs and struck down other provisions such as preexisting condition protections or premium increases as being unconstitutional as well. But the Court rejected his arguments; marking its third time out of three that they rejected such broad challenges to ACA.
What is the court’s opinion?
In its decision, the court acknowledged that the penalty-less mandate was unconstitutional but did not address whether other provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) should also be struck down. Instead, they found that state plaintiffs lacked standing as they did not demonstrate injury from enforcement of the mandate itself but claimed instead to have been affected by reporting requirements and other provisions that referenced its existence but operated independently of it.
Conservative justices voted in favor of upholding both the individual mandate and Medicaid expansion, with Justice Thomas writing a dissent which articulated an opinion popular within conservative legal circles: that Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce does not include compelling citizens to purchase insurance; according to him, such an obligation violated their Constitution by effectively taxing nonbuyers; however, due to time constraints on this particular case concerning severability issues this issue would have to wait until another case involved separability.
What is the court’s dissent?
The Court’s ruling could not address specific challenges to specific provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), but it did send a strong signal that judges will take greater caution in adjudicating what are essentially political disputes between states and the federal government over how to amend federal laws. This may indicate that Biden administration will be less willing to challenge multiple provisions in future.
Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch joined Justice Breyer’s dissent of the Court’s majority opinion, which consisted of technical arguments. They assert that lower courts correctly determined that states and two individuals lacked standing to sue as they had not experienced injury from its enforcement. Lastly, they disagree with Breyer that Congress can force people to purchase insurance under Commerce Clause; rather they use long-standing legal principles to support their position that Congress can levy taxes; penalties are taxation by other means.
What is the court’s response?
On Thursday, the Supreme Court rejected yet another attempt to overthrow the Affordable Care Act and preserve health coverage for 31 million Americans. It ruled that Texas and other Republican-dominated states, along with two self-employed individuals without standing to challenge its individual mandate (requiring people to have health insurance or face penalties), and uphold other key provisions such as guaranteed issue, community rating, and protections against preexisting conditions as valid and enforceable law provisions.
Stephen Breyer was responsible for writing the majority decision, with Amy Coney Barrett and Neil Gorsuch joining. Samuel Alito dissents. Prior to Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death last year, many legal observers thought it would be difficult for the court to strike down the Affordable Care Act after it had been upheld in lower courts since 2012. With Barrett and Kavanaugh on board however, conservatives had greater representation.