A federal judge in Texas said on Friday that the Affordable Care Act's individual coverage mandate is unconstitutional and that the rest of the law must also fall.
In a 55-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor ruled that last year's tax cut bill knocked the constitutional foundation from under "Obamacare" by eliminating a penalty for not having coverage. The decision is nearly certain to be appealed all the way to the Supreme Court.
"Because rewriting the ACA without its "essential" feature is beyond the power of an Article III court, the court thus adheres to Congress' textually expressed intent and binding Supreme Court precedent to find the individual mandate is inseverable from the ACA's remaining provisions", O'Connor wrote.
Shortly afterwards, President Trump tweeted, "As I predicted all along, Obamacare has been struck down as an UNCONSTITUTIONAL disaster!"
The case against the ACA, also known as Obamacare, brought by 20 Republican state attorneys general and governors, as well as two individuals.
The district court ruling does not necessarily mean the law is officially null, however. After Trump ordered the Justice Department to stop defending the health law, a coalition of ACA-supporting states took up the defense.
Since the suit was filed in January, many health-law specialists have viewed its logic as weak but nevertheless have regarded the case as the greatest looming legal threat to the 2010 law, which has been a GOP whipping post ever since and assailed repeatedly in the courts. At the time, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that "the Affordable Care Act's [ACA] requirement that certain individuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance may reasonably be characterized as a tax".
"The remainder of the ACA is non-severable from the individual mandate, meaning that the Act must be invalidated in whole", O'Connor wrote. The Supreme Court may or may not choose to hear the appeal, however.
The top Senate Democrat on Friday night criticized the court's decision. "Our lawsuit seeks to effectively repeal Obamacare, which will give President Trump and Congress the opportunity to replace the failed social experiment with a plan that ensures Texans and all Americans will again have greater choice about what health coverage they need and who will be their doctor". "We want to make sure that people with pre-existing conditions have protection, and we want to make sure that people have access to affordable coverage". As Case Western Law Professor and Volokh Conspiracy contributor Jonathan Adler, who is a longtime critic of the health care law, has argued (along with others), the policy statements made as part of the original law don't really matter, not anymore, because last year's Congress told us quite clearly that they did believe the law could stand on its own without a mandate penalty.