Demonstrators gathered in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., in 2015, to show support for the Affordable Care Act. Credit: REUTERS/Gary Cameron
The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Texas-led legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act on Thursday, saying the plaintiffs in the 2018 lawsuit are not being harmed by the law’s unenforceable individual mandate provision — a central argument of the challenge.
The 7-2 ruling did not include an official opinion on whether the ACA, a sweeping piece of health care legislation commonly known as Obamacare, was constitutional.
Instead, the court focused its rejection of the lawsuit — brought by 18 states and two individuals — on its opinion that the plaintiffs didn’t have any standing to sue over the individual mandate, which requires Americans to purchase health insurance and had originally included a financial penalty for those who chose to remain uninsured. That penalty was zeroed out in a later Republican tax bill.
“A plaintiff has standing only if he can ‘allege personal injury fairly traceable to the defendant’s allegedly unlawful conduct and likely to be redressed by the requested relief,’” the opinion reads. “Their problem lies in the fact that the statutory provision, while it tells them to obtain that coverage, has no means of enforcement.”
It was the third time the high court defended the ACA against legal challenges, including a 2012 ruling that the initial mandate — and its tax penalty for noncompliance — was constitutional because it was within Congress’ taxing power.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, set out in 2018 to achieve through the courts what his party tried and failed for years to achieve in legislation: the end of President Barack Obama’s landmark health law.
Paxton, leading a team of red states, argued that after Congress effectively neutered the key provision of the ACA in its 2017 GOP tax plan — the individual mandate — that provision was unconstitutional and the rest of the law had to fall as well.
The ACA was “sold on a lie” to the public and Paxton will “continue to fight this law — in fact, he has only just begun,” Ian Prior, Paxton’s campaign spokesperson, said in an emailed statement on Thursday.
“If the government is allowed to mislead its citizens, pass a massive government takeover of health care, and yet still survive after Supreme Court review, this spells doom for the principles of federalism and limited government,” Prior added.
The states argued, among other things, that the ACA’s insurance mandate caused more people to use state-operated medical insurance programs such as Medicaid, at a cost to the state. The court struck down that argument, saying there was no evidence to support that the two were related.
Justices Samuel Alito and Justice Neil Gorsuch were the dissenting votes in the court’s 7-2 ruling.
Supporters of the act celebrated the ruling, which would have thrown out the entire ACA had it gone in Texas’ favor, pointing out that millions depend on the act for access to health care.
“Texas has the highest uninsured rate in the nation,” said Wesley Story, communications manager at Progress Texas. “If Republicans had been successful, it would have been devastating for millions who are insured and rely on the ACA’s protections for pre-existing conditions. Health care is a human right, and every person deserves access to affordable care.”
Disclosure: Progress Texas has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
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