U.S. Supreme Court

Affordable Care Act survives again; states have no standing to challenge individual mandate, SCOTUS rules

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The Affordable Care Act remains intact after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 Thursday that challengers do not have standing to challenge the law’s requirement to carry health insurance.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote the majority opinion, joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Clarence Thomas, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Brett M. Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at New Orleans had struck down the health insurance requirement, known as the individual mandate.

The 5th Circuit had reasoned that the mandate became unconstitutional after Congress lowered the tax penalty to zero for failure to carry insurance in 2017. The Supreme Court had originally upheld the law in 2012 under Congress’ taxing power.

Breyer said 18 states and two individual plaintiffs who challenged the law do not have standing to sue.

The plaintiffs had argued that the insurance coverage requirement was unconstitutional, and the entire law must fall. The Supreme Court did not reach those arguments.

“We proceed no further than standing,” Breyer wrote. “Neither the individual nor the state plaintiffs have shown that the injury they will suffer or have suffered is ‘fairly traceable’ to the ‘allegedly unlawful conduct’ of which they complain.”

Breyer said the individual plaintiffs had complained that they were injured because of the health insurance payments that they have to make. But the mandate has no means of enforcement without a tax penalty, and the two individuals have not shown any government action causing injury, Breyer said.

The plaintiffs had said they were injured by costs incurred from increased use of state-operated medical insurance programs and increased administrative costs associated with the law. But without a penalty for failing to carry insurance, there is no incentive for residents to use any programs that they would otherwise forgo, Breyer said.

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. dissented in an opinion joined by Justice Neil M. Gorsuch.

“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,” Alito wrote. “In all three episodes, with the Affordable Care Act facing a serious threat, the court has pulled off an improbable rescue. … Instead of defending the constitutionality of the individual mandate, the court simply ducks the issue.”

Hat tip to SCOTUSblog, which had early coverage of the opinion, California v. Texas.

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