A coalition of Democratic states defending ObamaCare filed notice Thursday to appeal a recent federal court ruling that struck down the health care law as unconstitutional, sparking what's likely to be a lengthy legal fight that could reach the Supreme Court and influence the 2020 elections.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D) said that by appealing to the Louisiana-based 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, the 17 states are standing up for Americans who count on health care.
“In this particular case we believe the stakes are not only great, but compelling,” he said Thursday on a call with reporters.
Judge Reed O’Connor last month sided with the 20 Republican-led states that sued to overturn ObamaCare. He ruled that the 2010 law could not stand without the individual mandate penalty, which Congress repealed. O’Connor, an appointee of former President George W. Bush, issued another ruling on Sunday that ObamaCare can remain in effect while his decision is appealed.
President Trump in 2017 signed a tax law that eliminated the penalty for people who did not comply with the mandate to obtain health insurance, leading Texas and 19 other GOP states to challenge the law.
O’Connor said Congress can’t rewrite ObamaCare without the mandate, since it was considered an essential feature when the law was passed in 2010.
Democrats argue the ruling violates congressional intent, because Congress left the rest of the law standing when it repealed the penalty.
House Democrats will vote next week to intervene in the case, a move that will once again force Republican lawmakers to cast a vote on ObamaCare.
“Republican attorneys general and the Trump administration may think this is some kind of political game to score points with their base but it has real life consequences that could be devastating for millions of Americans,” Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (D) said Thursday in the same call with reporters. “They are blindly pursuing the destruction of Obamacare while overlooking real life health and economic impacts.”
Democratic attorneys general called the GOP's legal arguments flimsy at best. They also criticized O’Connor for invalidating the entire law.
“Really, this is an absurd interpretation of the law and an overreach of the federal court that will hopefully be stopped at the appellate level,” said Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum.
O’Connor’s ruling shocked legal scholars on both sides of the aisle, with some opponents of ObamaCare saying it was a bad decision.
The lawsuit could put ObamaCare before the Supreme Court for a third time. The Supreme Court upheld the law in 2012, ruling that the individual mandate is considered a tax, and that Congress has the authority to levy taxes. In 2015, the court upheld the law’s tax subsidies for low- and middle-income earners.
If the most recent case reaches the Supreme Court, Democrats expect Chief Justice John Roberts to be the swing vote. In 2015, he issued the majority ruling upholding the key provision of the law, saying “Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them.”
Though Democratic attorneys general say they are prepared to take the case to the high court, they are hoping for a win in the 5th Circuit to put an end to the GOP lawsuit.
“Hopefully, we’ll be able to persuade the judges on the [appeals] court of the error in the lower court,” Rosenblum said.
The GOP's lawsuit could also have political consequences down the line. Democrats largely credit their House midterm victories in November to their laser-focused messaging on ObamaCare and its popular protections for people with pre-existing conditions.
Democrats campaigned on tying Republicans to the lawsuit, which is supported by the Trump administration, arguing the legal effort means the GOP doesn’t support the law’s consumer protections.