Law & the Courts

Supreme Court Dismisses Latest Affordable Care Act Challenge

The Supreme Court in Washington, D.C, June 14, 2021 (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

The Supreme Court dismissed the latest challenge to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on Thursday.

A seven-justice majority, with Justice Stephen Breyer authoring the opinion and Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch dissenting, issued a narrow ruling that the Republican-led states, such as Texas, which filed the suit had not suffered the harm that would have given them standing to challenge the legislation.

“Neither the individual nor the state plaintiffs have shown that the injury they will suffer or have suffered is ‘fairly traceable’ to the ‘allegedly unlawful conduct’ of which they complain,” Breyer wrote.

The original challenge to the law stemmed from a former Supreme Court 2012 decision that the ACA’s individual mandate, which penalizes people who don’t obtain insurance, was authorized because it qualifies as a use of congressional tax power.

Republican-controlled states, the plaintiff parties, reduced the penalty to zero dollars to effectively eliminate the tax, opening the opportunity to sue to once again raise the question of the provision’s constitutionality. Republican officials then brought the case California v. Texas No. 19-840. The court’s move Thursday marks the third dismissal of a challenge to the law, allowing it to survive.

Before it arrived at the high court, the challenge advanced through some lower courts. A federal judge in Texas struck down the entire ACA as unconstitutional, claiming that compelling people to buy coverage “can no longer be sustained as an exercise of Congress’s tax power.”

In 2019, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit concurred that the health insurance requirement was unconstitutional but did not make a ruling outside of that specific component of the law, requesting that the lower court examine it more broadly.

Since assuming office, President Biden has promised to expand the scope of the ACA which was championed and signed into law by his predecessor, President Obama. The Supreme Court, despite its 6-3 majority of Republican-appointees, signaled Thursday that it may be reluctant to rule in a way that could overhaul or significantly redact the ACA legislation.

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