June 18, 2021
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Thursday, June 17, that the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, remains valid—rejecting a claim by a group of conservative states that a recent change to the law made it unconstitutional, NBC News reports.
By a 7-2 vote, the court said the plaintiffs did not have legal standing to sue because they did not make a strong enough showing that the law harmed them. But the decision also suggested it would be difficult for any challengers to try again on the same legal theory.
Two of former President Donald Trump’s three appointees to the court— Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett—joined the majority opinion, while the third, Neil Gorsuch, dissented.
In their dissent, JusticesSamuel Alito and Gorsuch said the court should have taken the case and declared it unconstitutional.
According to NBC News, the law’s challengers, 18 red states led by Texas, urged the court to rule that Obamacare’s requirement for nearly all Americans to obtain health insurance or pay an income tax penalty — known as the individual mandate — is unconstitutional. For that reason, they said, the entire law must be scrapped.
“The plaintiffs claim that without the penalty the act’s minimum essential coverage requirement is unconstitutional,” Breyer wrote for the court’s majority, adding, “They also argue that the minimum essential coverage requirement is not severable from the rest of the act,” meaning the entire law is invalid.
“We do not reach these questions of the act’s validity, however, for Texas and the other plaintiffs in this suit lack the standing necessary to raise them,” he wrote.
Republicans have long opposed the law, former President Barack Obama’s signature legislation. But more than 20 million Americans now depend on it for their health insurance, and there is broad public support for its requirement that insurance companies must cover pre-existing health conditions.
The Supreme Court first upheld the health care law in 2012. The majority opinion written by John Roberts said the individual was a legitimate exercise of Congress’s taxing authority. But in 2017, the Republican-led Congress set the tax penalty at zero.
That led the red states to argue that because the tax was effectively eliminated, the revised law could not be saved as a tax and was therefore an unconstitutional effort to require all Americans to obtain something. A federal judge in Texas agreed, and the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans upheld that ruling.
But 20 blue states, led by California, asked the Supreme Court to overturn those lower court decisions. They said with the tax penalty at zero, there effectively is no individual mandate, so the law is not unconstitutional. It may encourage Americans to buy insurance, but it does not require anyone to do anything, they said.
What’s more, the red states said Congress meant the healthcare law to work as an integrated whole. Prohibiting insurers from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions and allowing young people to stay longer on the policies of their parents were meant to work because of the near-universal command to buy insurance. Without the mandate, the challengers said, the law falls apart.
However, the blue states said the test for deciding whether the rest of a law can be saved if part of it is struck down is a simple one: What did Congress want? They said the answer is found in the 2017 action that set the tax at zero: Congress left the rest of the law intact.
Research contact: @NBCNews