The United States Supreme Court ruled 7-2 on Thursday that the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, remains valid, rejecting a claim by a group of conservative states that a recent amendment to the law made it unconstitutional.
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 demand that insurance companies cover pre-existing health issues.
The challengers of the law, 18 Red States led by Texas, urged the court to declare that Obamacare’s requirement for almost all Americans to obtain health insurance or pay an income tax penalty – known as an individual mandate – is unconstitutional. For this reason, they said, the whole law must be repealed.
But in the ruling, Judge Stephen Breyer said states did not have standing to challenge the individual warrant “because they failed to show past or future harm sufficiently attributable to the conduct of defendants applying the legal provision. specific that they attack as unconstitutional “.
The Supreme Court first upheld the health care law in 2012. The majority opinion drafted by Chief Justice John Roberts said the individual was a legitimate exercise of congressional tax authority. But in 2017, the Republican-led Congress set the tax penalty at zero.
This led the Red States to argue that because the tax was effectively eliminated, the revised law could not be saved as a tax and therefore was an unconstitutional effort to force all Americans to get something. A Texas federal judge agreed, and the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans upheld that ruling.
But 20 blue states, led by California, have asked the Supreme Court to overturn those lower court rulings. They said that with the zero tax penalty, there is effectively no individual mandate, so the law is not unconstitutional. It may encourage Americans to take out insurance, but it doesn’t force anyone to do anything, they said.
The most recent member of the Supreme Court, Amy Coney Barrett, was seen as a possible vote in agreement with the Red States on the constitutionality of the mandate. In a 2017 law review article, she said Roberts’ opinion “pushed the affordable care law beyond its plausible meaning to save the statue.”
The Red States said Congress wanted the health care law to function as an integrated whole. Prohibiting insurers from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions and allowing young people to stay longer on their parents’ policies were supposed to work because of the near universal command to buy insurance. Without the warrant, the challengers said, the law crumbles.
But the Blue States said the test for deciding whether the rest of a law can be saved if part of it is overturned is simple: What did Congress want? They said the answer lies in the 2017 action that set the tax at zero: Congress left the rest of the law untouched.