Supreme Court upholds Obamacare with a 7-2 vote

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday to confirm the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act by a 7-2 margin, with 4 conservatives justices joining the court’s three liberals to protect the landmark achievement of former President Barack Obama’s two terms.

The case, California v. Texas, hinged on an argument made by Republican governors and attorneys general, and supported by the Trump administration, that following Republicans’ successful effort in 2017 to eliminate monetary penalties for not maintaining health insurance, the entire law must be struck down.

The argument follows from a 2012 case against the ACA mandate that all Americans get insured, or else face a monetary penalty. In a 5-4 decision, conservative Chief Justice John Roberts, joined by the court’s four liberals, then wrote an opinion ruling the law was constitutional because the mandate was actually a constitutional exercise of the government’s right to tax, not an unconstitutional requirement that all Americans must purchase a product on the marketplace. With the erasure of the penalty for those lacking insurance, supporters of California v. Texas say the previous justification for the law’s constitutionality has been eliminated.

Thursday’s ruling, however, rested on the argument that neither the states or individual plaintiffs in the suit actually have standing to bring a challenge to Obamacare, because the penalty for not obtaining insurance had been reduced to zero, and so therefore the federal government isn’t inflicting damages on either party.

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Justice Stephen Breyer, delivering the majority opinion, also said that the plaintiff’s had no standing because the court could provide no redress for the alleged harms in the case.

“To find standing to attack” the now unenforceable individual mandate would “allow a federal court to issue what would amount to an advisory opinion,” a power the Constitution does not grant the judicial branch” Stephens wrote.

Justice Clarence Thomas agreed with the ruling to uphold the ACA law, but did so in a concurring opinion that also argued the plaintiffs in this case “have not identified an unlawful action that has injured them.”

Justice Samuel Alito wrote the dissenting opinion, joined by Justice Neil Gorsuch. arguing that the states unquestionably have standing because they are large employers and because the law “saddles them with expensive and burdensome obligations, and those obligations are traceable to the federal government.”

Alito argued also that the individual mandate to buy insurance is both unconstitutional and is “inextricably linked” to the broader Obamacare law, and therefore should be struck down by the judiciary.

The decision will be a boon for President Joe Biden, who campaigned on expanding the program to provide higher subsidies for those who purchase insurance on the Obamacare exchanges and to increase the standards of insurance plans to be subsidized.

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The case was a major issue in the leadup to last year’s presidential election, as Republicans confirmed now Justice Amy Coney Barrett on Oct. 26, 2020, just eight days before the Election Day last year on Nov. 3. The 26 days between President Donald Trump’s nomination of Barrett and Election Day is the shortest period of time between a presidential nomination for the Supreme Court justice hand a presidential election in U.S. history.

Democrats argued last year that the conservative Barrett would vote to overturn Obamacare, in an effort to put pressure on Republicans to refrain from confirming her until after the election, letting the victor nominate the next Supreme Court Justice. Her final confirmation vote was 52-48, with one Republican, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine voting against Barrett’s accession to the highest court in the land. In the end, Barrett voted to uphold the Obamacare law.

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