Justices Reject Ken Paxton’s Affordable Care Act Challenge

In a 7-2 ruling, the Supreme Court said plaintiffs did not prove they had been injured by the ACA’s health insurance mandate.

By Jill Ament & Shelly BrisbinJune 18, 2021 10:52 am, ,

On Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down an effort spearheaded by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. In the 7-to-2 ruling the court said the plaintiffs led by Paxton didn’t have the standing to sue over the law.

Lynne Rambo is emerita professor of law at Texas A&M University. She told Texas Standard that the lawsuit rejected by the courts sought to invalidate the Affordable Care Act by arguing that when Congress removed the tax penalty that had originally applied to Americans who did not have or buy health insurance, it invalidated the law as a whole.

But the justices evaluated the claim based on who filed it – on whether the plaintiffs, including Paxton and another 20 state attorneys general – could show they had been harmed by the ACA. Rambo says the court found the plaintiffs did not prove harm.

Because Congress zeroed out the ACA tax penalty, but left the requirement to have insurance in place, Rambo says it would be difficult for any plaintiff to prove that they had been harmed by the requirement.

“Now you have a requirement sitting there that people have to have insurance, but there’s no way for the federal government to enforce it,” Rambo said. “So there’s no way for you to be hurt if you don’t buy the insurance.”

Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch dissented from the opinion, while the four other conservative justices voted in the majority.

“If you look at the series of decisions on the Affordable Care Act over the years, the number of people upholding it is increasing,” Rambo said. “This time, Justice Thomas, despite hating the Affordable Care Act, agreed there was not standing on the part of the plaintiffs or Texas to bring the suit.”

Rambo says many avenues for attacking the ACA have now been exhausted. But, she says, efforts to oppose it will probably continue, including further lawsuits.

“I don’t think the Supreme Court takes cases for just political reasons,” Rambo said. “So if they were going to take up a new challenge, it would have to present an issue that was really new.”

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