Source: Joel B. Pollak
The U.S. Supreme Court rejected a challenge to Obamacare on Thursday in California v. Texas on technical grounds, holding 7-2 that the plaintiffs — some 17 Republican-led states — lacked the standing to bring a suit against the law.
The states wanted the courts to overturn Obamacare, arguing that since the “individual mandate” penalty for not buying health insurance — which the Court, controversially, redefined as a “tax” in 2012 — had been set to zero by President Donald Trump’s tax reforms, the entire law was unconstitutional. Moreover, since the “individual mandate” was integral to the functioning of Obamacare, it could not be severed from the law, and therefore the whole law had to be discarded.
In a majority opinion written by Justice Stephen Breyer, the Court held:
The Constitution gives federal courts the power to adjudicate only genuine “Cases” and “Controversies.” Art. III, §2. To have standing, a plaintiff must “allege personal injury fairly traceable to the defendant’s allegedly unlawful conduct and likely to be redressed by the requested relief.” DaimlerChrysler Corp. v. Cuno, 547 U. S. 332, 342. No plaintiff has shown such an injury “fairly traceable” to the “allegedly unlawful conduct” challenged here.
Though the individual mandate is no longer enforceable, the Court held, “Unenforceable statutory language alone is not sufficient to establish standing.”
In a dissent, Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch protested against the Court’s apparent bias: “Today’s decision is the third installment in our epic Affordable Care Act trilogy, and it follows the same pattern as installments one and two. In all three episodes, with the Affordable Care Act facing a serious threat, the Court has pulled off an improbable rescue.”
Alito wrote: “Texas and the other state plaintiffs have standing, and now that the “tax” imposed by the individual mandate is set at $0, the mandate cannot be sustained under the taxing power. As a result, it is clearly unconstitutional, and to the extent that the provisions of the ACA that burden the States are inextricably linked to the individual mandate, they too are unenforceable.”
Justice Clarence Thomas, in a concurring opinion, noted the double-standard of Obamacare’s defenders, “who argued in first instance that the individual coverage mandate is the Act’s linchpin, yet now, in an about-face, contend that it is just a throwaway sentence.” However, he said, the plaintiffs had not been injured by unlawful action under Obamacare in a way that would give them standing to sue, and so he cast his vote with the majority.
Breyer’s role in the majority opinion is interesting, as it comes while left-wing Democrats are insisting that he retire so that President Joe Biden can appoint a younger, liberal replacement. Justice Amy Coney Barrett, President Trump’s last appointee, joined the majority opinion; her potential ruling on the case came up during her confirmation hearing last year.