Justices Grant Affordable Care Act Petitions

Just as it did almost eight years ago, the Supreme Court will once again weigh in on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate.

The Supreme Court has already rejected a challenge to the  constitutionality of the mandate once. In 2012, Chief Justice John Roberts agreed with the court’s four more liberal justices that the mandate was constitutional because the penalty imposed on individuals who did not buy health insurance was a tax, which the Constitution allows Congress to impose.

But in 2017, Congress enacted an amendment to the ACA that set the penalty for not buying health insurance at zero – but left the rest of the ACA in place. That change led to the dispute that is now before the court: A group of states led by Texas (along with several individuals) went to federal court, where they argued that because the penalty for not buying health insurance is zero, it is no longer a tax and the mandate is therefore unconstitutional. And the mandate is such an integral part of the ACA, they contended, that the rest of the law must be struck down as well. California and the other states joined the lawsuit to defend the mandate.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court granted California’s petition for review, which asks the justices to weigh in on three questions: whether the challengers have a legal right to sue at all; whether the mandate is now unconstitutional; and whether, if the mandate is unconstitutional, it can be separated from the rest of the ACA. The justices also granted a cross-petition filed by Texas, which asks the court to decide whether the district court was correct in deeming the entire ACA invalid.

The justices will hear oral argument in the case next fall, with a decision likely to follow sometime in 2021.