The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear a politically explosive case on whether Obamacare is lawful, taking up a bid by 20 Democratic-led states including New York and California to save the landmark healthcare law.
The impetus for the Supreme Court case was a 2018 ruling by a federal judge in Texas that Obamacare as currently structured in light of a key Republican-backed change made by Congress violates the U.S. Constitution and is invalid in its entirety. The ruling came in a legal challenge to the law by Texas and 17 other conservative states backed by President Donald Trump’s administration.
The Supreme Court’s decision to intervene means the fate of the law formally called the Affordable Care Act, the signature domestic policy achievement of former Democratic President Barack Obama, will be on the line during the ongoing presidential race.
The court is expected to hear arguments and decide the case in its next term, which starts in October and ends in June, meaning a ruling is not likely before the Nov. 3 election in which Trump is seeking a second term in office.
The justices did not act on a similar appeal brought by the Democratic-led House of Representatives but did agree to take up a separate appeal brought by the conservative states that want the law struck down.
The coalition of states have asked the Supreme Court to overturn a Dec. 18 ruling by the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that declared that the law’s “individual mandate” that required people to obtain health insurance ran afoul of the Constitution. The 5th Circuit ruling came in an appeal of U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor’s prior ruling that the entire law must fall.
The Supreme Court has a 5-4 conservative majority that includes two justices appointed by Trump. In 2012, it ruled 5-4 to uphold Obamacare. All five justices in the majority in that case – four liberals and conservative Chief Justice John Roberts – remain on the court. For the law to be struck down this time, Roberts likely would have to reverse course and join the other conservatives.