States Defending ACA File Rebuttal With Supreme Court vs Trump Suit

Alicia Ault

July 30, 2020

The coalition defending the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has filed its latest response to attempts to overturn the law, stating that it is a perilous path to take during the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Twenty states and Washington, DC, filed a brief in the US Supreme Court on July 29 stating that, contrary to the arguments advanced by the Trump administration and the Republican governors and attorneys general of 20 states seeking to invalidate the law, the ACA is constitutional and should be upheld.

In late June, the Trump administration filed its argument that the law should be overturned, saying that it became invalid when Congress eliminated the individual mandate in 2017.

The Supreme Court has agreed to review the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals' opinion, which ruled that the individual mandate is unconstitutional. Oral arguments at the high court are likely in the fall but have not yet been scheduled. It's not clear whether they will be presented before the presidential election in November. A decision would not come until 2021.

On a call with reporters, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said that even without a ruling this fall, healthcare and the ACA would be high priorities for voters. "As unemployment rises along with COVID-19 infections, access to quality, affordable healthcare is more important than ever," he said.

Frederick Isasi, the executive director of the advocacy group Families USA, said his advocacy group's research indicates that 5.4 million people have lost employer-sponsored insurance from February through June as the number of unemployed adults tripled from 6 million to 18 million. "This is by far the largest coverage loss ever sustained in US history," said Isasi.

"The notion that we're going before the US Supreme Court to defend health insurance coverage for well over 20 million families during a worldwide pandemic is an incredibly sad statement about how partisan and coldhearted the conservative AGs and Trump administration have become," he said.

California is joined by Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia.

In their filing, these defendants said that the Supreme Court, in the 2012 decision in National Federation of Independent Businesses v Sebelius, ruled that the ACA was still constitutional even if the mandate were to be severed from the law.

When Congress eliminated the requirement that people buy insurance in 2017, taking the tax penalty to zero, it did "not violate the Constitution by creating a provision that does nothing and cannot possibly be enforced," said the defendants. "Indeed, such a provision does not inflict any legally cognizable injury on anyone."

They are opposed by the Trump administration, Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and two individual plaintiffs who say they were harmed by the law, Neill Hurley and John Nantz.

Alicia Ault is a Lutherville, Maryland–based freelance journalist whose work has appeared in publications including Smithsonian.com, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. You can find her on Twitter @aliciaault.

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