Law & the Courts

Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Case on Whether Obamacare Is Unconstitutional

Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. (Reuters/Alexander Drago)

The Supreme Court announced Monday that it would hear a GOP-led effort against Obamacare, with opening arguments likely slated for the fall after the justices initially decided against fast-tracking a ruling.

Obamacare came under threat in December when the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a 2-1 vote that the individual mandate, which required Americans to buy health insurance under threat of fine, was unconstitutional. But the court kicked the rest of the case back down to Texas district judge Reed O’Connor, who initially decided that the individual mandate was unconstitutional in December 2018.

“It may still be that none of the ACA is severable from the individual mandate, even after this inquiry is concluded,” Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod said in her majority opinion. “It may be that all of the ACA is severable from the individual mandate. It may also be that some of the ACA is severable from the individual mandate, and some is not.”

The Democratic states and the House, which are leading the defense of the 2010 healthcare statute, intervened and asked the Supreme Court to intervene and fast-track a decision by June, which it turned down. But the Court’s decision to hear the case on a regular track is still unusual, as the case has yet to be fully considered by O’Conner.

The Trump administration had urged in its brief for the Court to wait for a lower-court decision. “Immediate review is unwarranted in the case’s present posture,” it wrote, “because the court of appeals did not definitively resolve any question of practical consequence.”

Texas and 17 other Republican-led states sued in 2017 after the GOP-led Congress cut the tax penalty for those who lacked insurance to zero — rendering the individual mandate effectively over, and attorney general William Barr expanded the suit this year to argue that the entire law should be found unconstitutional.

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