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After Months of Concern, SCOTUS Appears Interested in Upholding Obamacare

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After Months of Concern, SCOTUS Appears Interested in Upholding Obamacare

2020-11-11 18:18:41

After Months of Concern, SCOTUS Appears Interested in Upholding Obamacare

After the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in September, it set up a rush to fill her seat on the Supreme Court by the election. It was known that the Affordable Care Act was the subject of a case that would come before the high court this week. So there was a concern on the part of Democrats to slow down the confirmation of conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett, not wanting her to be able to decide on this case.

Yet, much of the concern seems to have been for naught. While the Supreme Court is now split six to three in favor of conservatives, there are at least two conservative judges who have made comments while hearing the case that makes it appear they are likely to uphold Obamacare.

Both Chief Justice John Roberts and Trump appointee Justice Brett Kavanaugh seemed to share the opinion that if the court were to strike down the provision of the law that mandates the purchasing of health insurance, the rest of the law should remain on the books.

"Looking at our severability precedents, it does seem fairly clear that the proper remedy would be to sever the mandate provision and leave the rest of the act in place, the provisions regarding preexisting conditions and the rest," said Kavanaugh.

Roberts didn't lead as much into his opinion but did push back against the Texas solicitor general's argument that urged the Supreme Court to wholly put an end to the Affordable Care Act. Texas is just one of 18 Republican-led states pursuing this case.

On behalf of the Trump administration, the Justice Department backed the Republican-led states on Tuesday. It urged the justices to strike down the health insurance law. California is one of 20 states in a coalition, along with the Democratic-led House, opposing this move by the GOP.

There were many different ways this case could have gone, the most extreme of which would have involved the conservative majority striking down Obamacare in its entirety. Doctors' groups warned that if the Supreme Court were to strike it down wholly, it would throw the United States' entire health care system into chaos when the country is in the midst of fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

Killing ACA would cause around 21 million Americans to lose their health coverage. Protections for 133 million people with preexisting conditions would be removed, as regulations that prevent health insurance companies from denying coverage or charging higher premiums because of personal medical needs would be done.

Yet, Roberts and Kavanaugh seemed inclined to favor leaving intact at least some parts of the law.

If the three liberal justices are joined by Roberts and Kavanaugh to vote against striking down the law, the court may vote to just eliminate the mandate. A majority could also leave that provision intact.

The Republican-led states argue that Donald Trump's 2017 tax-cut law made the health-care mandate provision of Obamacare unconstitutional, so the entire law should then be struck down. They allege that the original design of the law depended on the requirement that most people buy insurance and would be penalized for noncompliance.

Roberts was skeptical of that argument, noting that Republican lawmakers, who have vowed for years to repeal ACA, had passed a more narrow measure in the tax cuts.

"I think it's hard for you to argue that Congress intended the entire act (to) fail if the mandate were struck own, when the same Congress that lowered the penalty to zero did not even try to repeal the rest of the act," Roberts said to Texas Solicitor General Kyle Hawkins. 

The Supreme Court's decision will likely be handed down in June 2021.

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