On November 10, 2020, the Supreme Court of the United States of America began hearing oral arguments in the case of California v. Texas. This case challenges the legality of the Affordable Care Act (“the ACA,” also called “Obamacare”).
This case presents several questions before the Court. The first question involves the legal standing that the individual States have to challenge the ACA. “Standing” is the requirement that parties to a case must meet to stand before the court. It mandates that a complaining party suffer damage that the court can actually fix; otherwise, their case cannot be decided by the court. The Supreme Court will have to decide whether the States, led by Texas, are actually harmed by Obamacare enough to bring a lawsuit against it.
The second issue involves the ACA’s individual mandate -- and its $0 penalty-- to determine if it is unconstitutional. This mandate requires individuals to acquire health insurance or pay a penalty tax (with some exceptions). This issue was previously decided in the 2012 Supreme Court case National Federation of Independent Businesses v. Sebelius. The Court then decided that the individual mandate was constitutional, concluding that the penalty tax was a valid tax under Congress’ authority to tax. However, because the penalty is now $0 (due to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed in 2017), the plaintiffs in this case argue that it is not a valid tax under Congress’ authority to tax.
Lastly, if the Court decides against the individual mandate, it will have to decide if the mandate is severable. This means that if the Court finds the mandate unconstitutional, it will also decide whether to strike the part of the ACA that concerns the individual mandate (along with any other portions the Court finds unconstitutional) or the ACA in its entirety. If the ACA is struck in its entirety, over 20 million Americans with pre-existing conditions may be without healthcare instantly.
OUTCOME OF THE CASE
With Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation to the Supreme Court last month, the Court is now decidedly conservative. Barrett remained silent during her confirmation hearings when asked about Obamacare, but her history of support for deceased Justice Antonin Scalia alongside her public critiques of the ACA leave its fate uncertain.
To read more on the procedural history of California v. Texas, click here.
For impact stories concerning the importance of the ACA to people with disabilities, please click here.