A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans heard arguments in early July on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare).
The justices were convened to weigh an appeal from Blue State attorneys-general (AGs) over a ruling in December 2018 by District Judge Reed O’Connor of Ft. Worth, Texas, who declared the ACA unconstitutional.
In doing so, Judge O’Connor sided with a lawsuit filed by Red State attorneys-general, led by Texas AG Ken Paxson, who argued that the ACA was unconstitutional now that the individual mandate tax penalty has been reduced to zero.
That argument hinges on the 2012 Supreme Court decision in which Chief Justice John Roberts found the law constitutional based on Congress’s taxing authority. Once the tax was zeroed out, argued the Republican AGs, the law was rendered unconstitutional.
(The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 eliminated the cash penalty part of the individual mandate, which forces citizens to buy health insurance or pay a penalty.)
An interesting twist in the case was the decision by the Department of Justice (DOJ) to drop any defense of the ACA and side with Judge O’Connor, effectively aiming to end the law entirely.
The justices’ decision is not expected for many months, after which an appeal can be filed to the full Circuit Court or to the Supreme Court if Judge Reed’s decision is upheld.
If the law is ruled unconstitutional, most likely the ruling will be put on hold while the appeals process takes place.