Supreme Court upholds Affordable Care Act, keeping Obamacare in place

Supreme Court building
Posted at 10:10 AM, Jun 17, 2021

The Affordable Care Act, the public health care system signed into law by President Barack Obama, survived a legal challenge Thursday when the Supreme Court ruled that it cannot be struck down on the basis of the elimination of the individual mandate.

Justice Stephen Breyer wrote the majority ruling in the case, "California v. Texas." Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch were the only members of the nine-person court who dissented.

Notably, two of the three justices appointed by President Donald Trump ruled that the law — of which Trump was a noted critic — should remain in place. Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett sided with the majority, while Gorsuch was the lone Trump-appointed justice that dissented.

The ruling keeps health care in place for millions of Americans, including the more than 3.5 million people who signed up for insurance provided through the Affordable Care Act during a special enrollment period earlier this year.

"Today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision is a major victory for all Americans benefitting from this groundbreaking and life-changing law," President Joe Biden said in a statement. "It is a victory for more than 130 million Americans with pre-existing conditions and millions more who were in immediate danger of losing their health care in the midst of a once-in-a-century pandemic."

The challenge to the Affordable Care Act centered on a change to the law made in the 2017 tax bill signed into law by President Donald Trump. That law dropped the penalty for violating the individual mandate — the penalty a person must pay for forgoing insurance coverage — to $0

Opponents of the Affordable Care Act argued that because the penalty is now $0, the provision in the law that requires everyone to buy insurance is no longer valid. Opponents of the ACA argue that because the individual mandate is essential to how the law operates, the entire law should be struck down as unconstitutional.

"The Court holds that the plaintiffs do not have standing (a legal right to sue) to challenge the individual mandate because they have not shown a past or future injury fairly traceable to the defendants' conduct," Thursday's ruling reads.

Thursday's ruling is a loss for Republican lawmakers and policy-shapers, who have decried the Affordable Care Act as mismanaged and a drain on public resources. According to CNN, the case marks the third time that the Supreme Court has considered a challenge to the law since it was passed in 2010.

The Texas v. California ruling marks the first challenge the ACA has faced since conservatives took a 6-3 advantage on the court last fall. Republicans had hoped that the newly conservative court would rule in their favor.