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Once Again, the Supreme Court Upholds Obamacare

Texas and 19 other states had challenged the Affordable Care Act. For the third time, the nation's highest court upheld it.

U.S. Supreme Court building, Washington, D.C.
(Steven Frame/Shutterstock)
Republicans have tried three times to convince the Supreme Court to overturn the Affordable Care Act. On Thursday, they failed for the third time.

A 7-2 majority voted to uphold the law, finding that Texas and other states lacked standing to challenge the law. Although the ruling did not address the substance of the complaint, its effect is to leave the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, intact.

“The court’s decision today is a huge victory,” said Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). “The ACA has been the established law of the land for more than a decade now. It is time for an end to the political attacks and the meritless lawsuits.”

The case, known as California v. Texas, represented a showdown between blue states that supported the ACA and red states looking to abolish it. The court heard oral arguments last November.

In 2012, the Supreme Court upheld the law, finding that Congress had the right to impose taxes and that the ACA’s individual mandate, which required individuals to acquire health insurance or face a tax penalty, was in effect a tax. Congress ended the individual mandate in 2017, so Texas, joined by 19 other states, argued that the entire law should be struck down.

They were supported by the Trump administration, but the Biden administration informed the court, after taking office, that it opposed the challenge.

A majority of justices found that the red states were unable to demonstrate any harm caused to them by the existence of a nonpenalty. “Texas and the other plaintiffs in this suit lack the standing necessary to raise” questions about the law’s validity, wrote Justice Stephen Breyer.

The dissenters were Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch.

“Today’s decision is the third installment in our epic Affordable Care Act trilogy, and it follows the same pattern as installments one and two,” Alito wrote. “In all three episodes, with the Affordable Care Act facing a serious threat, the court has pulled off an improbable rescue.”

With Democrats in control of Congress and the White House and the latest avenue of legal attack cut off, it looks like the ACA will remain intact for the foreseeable future.

“This was a close call,” said Bruce Lesley, president of First Focus on Children, which advocates for federal spending on children and family programs. “We are relieved to see that the Supreme Court has left the Affordable Care Act intact, and it can continue to offer health care to millions of children and the people who care for them.”
Alan Greenblatt is a senior staff writer for Governing. He can be found on Twitter at @AlanGreenblatt.
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