Supreme Court Won’t Rush Obamacare Case, Dealing Setback to Democrats

The Supreme Court will not fast-track two petitions that ask the high court to again review the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act’s mandate for individuals to buy health insurance.

The order Tuesday morning means the high court will defer a decision on the future of the Affordable Care Act until the fall, if the justices choose to hear the dispute at all.

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The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Obamacare’s individual mandate in December, saying it no longer could be justified on tax grounds. A coalition of blue states and congressional Democrats immediately appealed to the Supreme Court.

Timing was a factor, however, as the justices usually finalize their docket for a given term in mid-January. Requests for the high court to take up a case generally play out over several months, while both sides submit briefs, which the justices discuss in private conferences.

Given the press of time, Democrats asked the high court to consider their petitions on an expedited basis, saying prolonged uncertainty over the fate of Obamacare would sow chaos in the health care markets.

“The lower courts have struck down a federal statutory provision on constitutional grounds and cast doubt on the validity of the entire [Affordable Care Act] arguably the most consequential package of legislative reforms of this century,” one of the Democrats’ petitions reads. “That uncertainty threatens adverse consequences for patients, providers, and insurers nationwide.”

The Trump administration opposed that request, arguing that lower court proceedings should continue before the Supreme Court gets involved. As such, Tuesday’s decision is a victory for the Trump administration in a narrow sense.

However, the delay is not without peril for the president’s reelection prospects, as continued questions over the viability of the Affordable Care Act give Democrats a potent line of attack.

Democratic congressional candidates campaigned on health care to good effect in the 2018 midterm elections, after a protracted and unsuccessful Republican effort to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Indeed, the delay tees up a dangerous scenario for the president. If the justices decide to take up the case before they adjourn in June, arguments could follow in October or November. As such, health care could be much in the news at the apex of the presidential campaign.

The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act set off the latest round of litigating over Obamacare. The Republican tax reform bill set the financial penalty for failure to buy health insurance at zero, effectively zeroing out the mandate.

Since the mandate no longer is raising revenue, a coalition of red states argue that it no longer can be justified on tax grounds.

U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor agreed with that claim and struck down the mandate in 2018. He immediately put his decision on hold, however, meaning that the Affordable Care Act will continue to operate as normal while litigation continues in the federal courts.

The 5th Circuit likewise agreed that the mandate is unconstitutional, but returned the case to O’Connor with instructions to decide whether the entire statute should be struck down.

The justices did not disclose a vote count or give reasons for denying the request Tuesday, as is typical of orders of this nature.

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