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December 17, 2018

Judge Rules Affordable Care Act Unconstitutional – What Does It Mean?

Late on Friday, Dec. 14, a federal judge in Texas issued a decision declaring the entire Affordable Care Act, the healthcare bill championed by the Obama administration in 2010, to be unconstitutional. Because there’s no injunction to shut down the Affordable Care Act right away, however, nothing will change since the law remains on the books for now.

Additionally, according to The New York Times, legal analysts believe the ruling was so broad that a higher court, perhaps even the Supreme Court if the case goes that far, is likely to overturn it. Republican Sen. Susan Collins (Maine) agreed with that assessment while in a statement, the White House acknowledged the ruling would be appealed.

While federal Judge Reed O’Connor struck down the entire law, his arguments against it focused on the law’s requirement that individuals have health insurance. Under the law as originally written, individuals were to pay a fine to the U.S. Treasury if they failed to purchase health insurance. Congress has changed that and, today, individuals do not have to pay a fine. Judge O’Connor said, as a result, the individual mandate can no longer be considered to fall under Congress’s power to tax.

In a previous case settled in 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the individual mandate, arguing it fell within the legislative branch’s taxing power. While legal scholars don’t believe the Texas judge’s ruling will stand, with two Trump-nominated justices now in place, the makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court is now different than it was in 2012.

It’s unclear how long the appeals process will take, but it could extend all the way into 2020, which means the Affordable Care Act will remain the law of the land for the immediate future, at least.