The U.S. Supreme Court has voted 7-2 to uphold the Affordable Care Act (also known as ObamaCare). The ruling came mid-morning on Thursday following a challenge from 18 Republican-held states, and it allows the landmark law to continue protecting millions of Americans with preexisting health conditions.
Republicans had pinned their argument against ObamaCare on the legislation’s tax penalty, which was created to prompt Americans to purchase health insurance. The GOP contingent maintained that the minimum essential coverage requirement was not severable from the rest of the Act.
Before Joe Biden took over the White House, the Trump-led Justice Department had also urged the Supreme Court to strike down the law.
The challengers tried playing two angles regarding the tax penalty: first, they claimed that Obamacare had no constitutional footing without the tax penalty, and should therefore be invalidated; secondly, they said President Trump’s tax cut in 2017, which zeroed out the penalty, made the provision unconstitutional in the first place.
“Hence, they believe the Act as a whole is invalid,” wrote Justice Stephen Breyer in delivering the opinion of the Court. “We do not reach these questions of the Act’s validity, however, for Texas and the other plaintiffs in this suit lack the standing necessary to raise them.”
Conservative justices side with liberal justices
The 7-2 decision turned out to be an interesting mix given the Court’s make-up. Fellow liberal justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor sided with Breyer, as did four of the court’s conservative-leaning justices -- Chief Justice John Roberts, along with Justices Amy Coney Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh, and Clarence Thomas.
For one of the two dissenting Justices -- Samuel Alito -- there were some sour grapes.
“No one can fail to be impressed by the lengths to which this Court has been willing to go to defend the ACA against all threats. A penalty is a tax. The United States is a State. And 18 States who bear costly burdens under the ACA cannot even get a foot in the door to raise a constitutional challenge,” he wrote in his remarks.
“So a tax that does not tax is allowed to stand and support one of the biggest Government programs in our Nation’s history. Fans of judicial inventiveness will applaud once again. But I must respectfully dissent.”