- The Affordable Care Act, known as ACA or Obamacare, faced its latest test at the Supreme Court this week in a lawsuit brought by several Republican states and backed by the Trump administration.
- The lawsuit said Obamacare should be struck down as unconstitutional, arguing that the so-called individual mandate was no longer workable and as a result the whole law should be invalidated.
- Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh appeared sceptical of the Trump administration’s argument.
- Both justices suggested that the individual mandate was severable from the rest of the law – in other words, that it could be struck down on its own while the remainder of the landmark healthcare legislation stayed intact.
- Roberts voted in 2012 to uphold the ACA, and if he and Kavanaugh were to side with the court’s three liberal justices this time, the ruling would leave Obamacare in place.
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The Supreme Court on Tuesday began weighing the latest challenge to the Affordable Care Act, known as the ACA or “Obamacare.” It’s the first major test for the law since President Donald Trump’s nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, was confirmed to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last month, cementing a 6-3 conservative majority on the high court.
The justices heard two hours of oral arguments in their third review of the case, which would determine whether the Obama administration’s landmark healthcare legislation, which provided health insurance to 20 million Americans, will stay intact. In previous rulings in 2012 and 2015, the Supreme Court decided to uphold the act.
And on Tuesday, two conservative justices on the bench, Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the latter of whom is also a Trump appointee, signalled the law may once again survive Republicans’ latest effort to strike it down.
Tuesday’s case, brought forth by a slew of red states and led by Texas, was backed by the Trump administration. The lawsuit primarily argues that a key provision of Obamacare, known as the individual mandate, is unconstitutional, unjustifiable, and that as a result, the whole law should be thrown out.
But Roberts and Kavanaugh seemed sceptical of the argument and suggested the individual mandate was severable; in other words, they said that specific provision could be struck down while the rest of the law remained intact.
“It’s hard for you to argue that Congress intended for the entire act to fall if the mandate were struck down, when the same Congress that lowered the penalty to zero did not even try to repeal the rest of the act,” Roberts, who cast the deciding vote to uphold the ACA in 2012, told Republican lawyers.
Similarly, Kavanaugh pointed out that “it does seem fairly clear that the proper remedy would be to sever the mandate and leave the rest of the law in place.”
“I tend to agree with you that this is a very straightforward case for severability under our precedents, meaning that we would excise the mandate and leave the rest of the act in place,” he added.
The chief justice also raised the issue of “standing,” which refers to the notion that a party or individual that files a lawsuit must demonstrate that they personally have been wronged by the issue they’re litigating.
Roberts said the plaintiffs’ argument “really expands standing dramatically … You’re letting someone not injured by the provision he’s challenging to sort of roam around through those 1,000 pages and pick out whichever ones he wants to attack.”
A final ruling in the case is expected to come by the end of the current term in June 2021, and if Roberts and Kavanaugh were to side with the court’s three liberal justices, it would be enough to uphold Obamacare.
The decision would be a major blow to Republicans and the Trump administration, who have repeatedly sought to invalidate the law through Congress and the courts since Trump first took office in 2017 and even before that.
Newsweek documented at least 70 Republican-led efforts to modify, repeal, or drastically downsize the ACA since it was first enacted in March 2010. In July 2017, six months after Trump took office and his administration made a strong push to repeal Obamacare and replace it with the widely panned “Trumpcare,” the Republican-controlled Senate again rejected the effort with then Arizona Sen. John McCain’s dramatic thumbs-down vote.
The president has since continued to tout healthcare reform as a key pillar of his reelection campaign and said a plan was forthcoming but never released one. As of last week, Insider and every major TV network projected that President-elect Joe Biden defeated Trump in the election.
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