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SCOTUS to Decide Whether or Not Trump Killed Obamacare

The Supreme Court of the United States granted certiorari Monday in California v. Texas–a case in which the nation’s highest court will review the individual mandate portion of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The case is on appeal from the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which ruled the individual mandate unconstitutional back in December because “it can no longer be read as a tax, and there is no other constitutional provision that justifies this exercise of congressional power.” While the litigation certainly presents novel questions of law, it is also highly politically-charged, particularly in light of President Donald Trump‘s many public promises to repeal the ACA. Because of that, legal experts were prepared for the possibility that the Supreme Court would choose not to involve itself in the controversy.

The case raises two important questions of law. First, it asks whether the ACA’s individual mandate constitutes a proper use of congressional authority. Under the Constitution, Congress’s power is far from unlimited; to withstand constitutional challenges, statutes must be justifiable based on Congress’s enumerated powers. If SCOTUS rules that the individual mandate is not a proper use of congressional power, a second question will arise: that of “severability.” The Court could also need to determine whether the individual mandate can be “severed” from the rest of the ACA, or whether the entire law’s fate is tied to the fate of that single provision. Alternatively, the Court could punt the issue of severability back to the trial court as the Fifth Circuit did.

In the years since the passage of the ACA, the penalty imposed for those without individual insurance had been deemed a “tax” – and was adjudicated legal on that ground. When President Trump‘s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 removed the penalty, however, so too did it remove the tax-based congressional authority for the provision.

The ACA, President Barack Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment, has been a hot political topic since its inception. But here we are: 2020 has breathed new life into the controversy.

For starters, in an increasingly polarized political climate, repeal of the ACA continues to be a conservative talking point. As some have pointed out, there won’t be an answer about the ACA in time for the 2020 presidential election — a reality which means we’ll be hearing ACA-related promises throughout this election cycle.

Furthermore, SCOTUS’s grant of cert comes during a time when Coronavirus continues to lead news cycles.

Some are already predicting the outcome in what is likely to be an epic showdown of conservative versus liberal judicial philosophies–with Chief Justice John Roberts casting the deciding vote.

[Image via Saul Loeb/Getty Images]

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Elura is a columnist and trial analyst for Law & Crime. Elura is also a former civil prosecutor for NYC's Administration for Children's Services, the CEO of Lawyer Up, and the author of How To Talk To Your Lawyer and the Legalese-to-English series. Follow Elura on Twitter @elurananos