Democrats decried the decision as reckless and urged an appeals court to overturn it, while also tying it to the GOP’s broader efforts to eliminate the ACA.
A federal judge in Texas threw the health coverage of some 20 million Americans in limbo by ruling Obamacare must be scrapped because Congress struck the penalty for failing to obtain insurance coverage.
The invalidation of the landmark 2010 law is certain to send shock waves through the U.S. health system and Washington after a midterm election seen in part as a rebuke to Republican efforts to tear down Obamacare.
“Wow, but not surprisingly, ObamaCare was just ruled UNCONSTITUTIONAL by a highly respected judge in Texas,” President Donald Trump wrote in a tweet celebrating the verdict. “Great news for America!”
The decision will be immediately appealed, said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who led several blue states in intervening to defend the ACA. It could ultimately become the third major Obamacare case to be taken up by the Supreme Court, which has twice voted to uphold the law.
U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor, a George W. Bush appointee in Fort Worth, Texas, issued the decision gutting the law in response to a lawsuit from 20 conservative-led states that sought to have the Affordable Care Act tossed out. They successfully argued that the mandate penalty was a critical linchpin of the law and that without it, the entire frameworks is rendered unconstitutional.
“In sum, the Individual Mandate ‘is so interwoven with [the ACA’s] regulations that they cannot be separated. None of them can stand,’” O’Connor wrote.
The decision came a little more than 24 hours before the sign-up period for 2019 Obamacare coverage is set to close — and roughly a month after voters upset over Republicans’ efforts to repeal and replace the ACA swept House Democrats back into the majority. O’Connor did not issue an injunction, leaving it unclear whether the Trump administration can continue to enforce the ACA in the near term. Obamacare enrollment is expected to continue up to the Saturday deadline.
The Justice Department took the unusual stance of partially siding with the conservative states seeking to strike down the federal law. As a result, 16 mostly Democratic-led states intervened in the case to try and save Obamacare. But O’Connor didn’t agree with their argument that by striking the tax penalty but leaving the rest of the federal health care law in place, Congress had clearly indicated its belief that they weren’t inseparable.
“In some ways, the question before the Court involves the intent of both the 2010 and 2017 Congresses,” O’Connor wrote. “The former enacted the ACA. The latter sawed off the last leg it stood on.”
Many legal experts are skeptical that the lawsuit will ultimately succeed — including Jonathan Adler, one of the architects of the last major legal challenge to Obamacare. Adler on Friday night tweeted that O’Connor’s opinion was “completely unmoored from the relevant legal authorities and doctrine.”
But the victory at the lower court level means that there will be a cloud hanging over the future of the law for months, if not years, to come.
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