ObamaCare in Court
March 26, 2019

In a court filing Monday, the Justice Department shifted its legal position on the Affordable Care Act, asking the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to strike down the entire 2010 law, commonly known as ObamaCare. In December, U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor in Texas ruled that ObamaCare became effectively unconstitutional when Republicans zeroed-out the individual mandate in their 2017 tax overhaul. In Monday's filing, the DOJ said it had "determined that the district court's judgment should be affirmed."

"The Department of Justice has determined that the district court's comprehensive opinion came to the correct conclusion and will support it on appeal," spokeswoman Kerri Kupec underscored in a statement. Previously, President Trump's Justice Department had argued for scrapping ObamaCare's protections for pre-existing conditions but not the rest of the law. When the Trump DOJ declined to defend ObamaCare in court, a group of 21 Democratic state attorneys general stepped in, and House Democrats also threw legal support behind the law after winning the House.

Many legal scholars, including conservatives, doubt O'Connor's ruling will stand. If it's upheld, it "would potentially eliminate health care for millions of people and create widespread disruption across the U.S. health-care system — from removing no-charge preventive services for older Americans on Medicare to voiding the expansion of Medicaid in most states," The Washington Post notes. The Trump administration advocating that chaos "could prove to be a gift for Democrats," Bloomberg News suggests.

The Justice Department asking the courts to strike down ObamaCare is "crazy" and "legally untenable," Washington and Lee University law professor emeritus Timothy Jost tells the Post. "It would be like invalidating the Interstate Highway System, causing chaos on an unimaginable scale. It's conceivable that the entire Medicare payment system would collapse." The DOJ's new position looks like "a strictly political decision, not a legal decision," he added. "Trump has wanted to get rid of the ACA, and I guess he sees an opportunity here." Peter Weber

June 8, 2018

On Thursday, the Justice Department filed a brief in a federal court in Texas stating that it won't defend several provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

The Justice Department said the ACA's requirement that individuals have health insurance is unconstitutional, because under the tax law President Trump signed last year, effective in 2019, there will no longer be a penalty for the individual mandate. The department also said that the provision barring insurance companies from denying coverage for people who have pre-existing conditions should be invalidated. In February, 20 states sued the federal government, challenging the law's constitutionality.

The decision "is a rare departure from the Justice Department's practice of defending federal laws in court," The Associated Press notes, and three career Justice Department lawyers withdrew from the case right before the filing, replaced by two political appointees. "I find it impossible to believe that the many talented lawyers at the department could not come up with any arguments to defend the ACA's insurance market reforms, which have made such a difference to millions of Americans," said former Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, calling this "a sad moment." Attorney General Jeff Sessions told Congress in a letter on Thursday that President Trump approved the legal strategy. Catherine Garcia

March 4, 2015

When the Supreme Court hears oral arguments on Wednesday in King v. Burwell, its second major challenge to the Affordable Care Act, the same lawyers from the first case will square off again. U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. was widely panned for his defense of ObamaCare three years ago, but his secondary argument won in the end. On the other side, Michael Carvin will try again to undermine the law, arguing this time that legislators only allowed state-run health care exchanges to hand out federal subsidies.

If the justices side with Carvin this time, more than six million enrollees in three dozen states would likely lose their health insurance. In this short video, The New York Times explains the case and how it could essentially create "two American health care systems." —Peter Weber

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