A federal appeals court has struck down the individual mandate portion of Obamacare while not invalidating the rest of the law, sending the case back down to a lower court judge who had previously ruled the law was unconstitutional.
According to The New York Times, by a 2-1 vote, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans invalidated the provision of Obamacare, or the Affordable Care Act, which required Americans to buy health insurance or pay a fine.
On the rest of the law, the court sent the case back to Judge Reed O’Connor of the Federal District Court in Fort Worth to “conduct a more searching inquiry.”
“The individual mandate is unconstitutional because it can no longer be read as a tax, and there is no other constitutional provision that justifies this exercise of congressional power,” the Fifth Circuit’s ruling read, according to National Review. “On the severability question, we remand to the district court to provide additional analysis of the provisions of the ACA as they currently exist.”
In his decision last year, Judge Reed O’Connor ruled that the individual mandate was “the keystone” of Obamacare and was “essential to and inseverable from the remainder of the ACA.” Since the penalty for noncompliance had been reduced to zero under the Trump administration, he ruled, the law itself was no longer operative.
His ruling was stayed, however, pending decisions from higher courts.
“It may still be that none of the ACA is severable from the individual mandate, even after this inquiry is concluded,” Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod wrote in the Fifth Court’s opinion. “It may be that all of the ACA is severable from the individual mandate. It may also be that some of the ACA is severable from the individual mandate, and some is not.”
The decision to send it back to O’Connor, National Review’s Tobias Hoonhout wrote, “was largely precipitated by the Trump administration’s decision to switch legal positions in the case.”
“In its original argument, the Justice Department had said just the law’s individual mandate and main insurance protections should be abolished,” he wrote.
“But this year, under Attorney General William Barr, the DOJ expanded its challenge to Obamacare by arguing the entire law should be found unconstitutional only in the states challenging the law. The constitutionality of the broader legislation remains to be adjudicated by a lower court as the [Fifth Circuit] decision handed down Wednesday dealt narrowly with the individual mandate provision.”
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who led the 21 states seeking to preserve the individual mandate and Obamacare as a whole, vowed to appeal the ruling and said he wanted to have the Supreme Court take the case up.
“For now, the president got the gift he wanted — uncertainty in the health care market and a pathway to repeal,” Becerra told reporters on a conference call, according to The Times.
There’s plenty of argument about what the Trump administration and Republicans “want” in this case; The Times, for instance, claimed that this was great news for the GOP — but not for the reasons you might think.
“Republicans, for whom a decision to throw out the law heading into the presidential election year could have been a political nightmare, seemed relieved, while Democrats issued a flurry of statements emphasizing that the law was still in grave danger,” Abby Goodnough reported.
I would assume she has her sources on this, but at least for the purposes of her article, this falls under what Wikipedia would term . On a day where impeachment was the only game in town (so somber! So historical!) the Obamacare ruling was a blip. Unless Becerra and Co. get their wish and this goes before the Supreme Court with a certain rapidity, it’ll remain so for the 2020 election process.
Politically, it’s a win for the Republicans. Regardless of what degree of relief members of the party may have felt over likely having Obamacare in place for most of the election cycle, this is part of what the administration wanted. It’s not the invalidation of the law for the states that had sued the federal government, but the individual mandate was the most onerous provision of the law.
Whether or not it’s separable remains to be seen. After all, the whole point was that the individual mandate would increase the pool of enrollees to the point where it could theoretically be affordable; with healthy people being forced to buy a level of insurance they typically wouldn’t, it would subsidize more costly patients that insurers would lose money on. In practice, this never quite worked as it was supposed to, but the intention was there. And after all, what’s Obamacare if not an amalgamation of the purest of intentions?
In terms of personal freedom, this is nothing short of stellar. Forcing someone to buy something should never have been legal; the only way it snuck by the Supreme Court was disguising it as a tax. The tax is technically still there but set at nil (this was part of the reconciliation process necessary to get the repeal through the Senate without triggering a filibuster). Rest assured that’ll change if the individual mandate remained on the books and was deemed constitutional.
Wednesday’s ruling was a strike at the heart of Obamacare. Only time will tell whether it stands. However, on a day when our political attention was diverted anywhere but the Fifth Circuit, the court might have left the most lasting imprint on our political landscape.
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