The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the Affordable Care Act after Texas and several Republican-led states sought to overturn the law, saying they do not have standing to challenge the 2010 healthcare statute.
The plaintiffs had argued the law is unconstitutional after Congress repealed the individual mandate penalty in 2017. But the court, in a 7-2 opinion written by Justice Stephen Breyer, said the states didn’t show past or future injury.
“With the penalty zeroed out, the IRS can no longer seek a penalty from those who fail to comply,” Breyer wrote for the court. “Because of this, there is no possible government action that is causally connected to the plaintiffs’ injury—the costs of purchasing health insurance.”
During oral arguments in November, every justice questioned the plaintiffs’ standing. The states and individual plaintiffs claimed that the individual mandate imposes a significant cost burden, even after Congress zeroed out the penalty for not carrying minimum required coverage. That argument didn’t hold water with the majority.
“But setting aside that pure issue of law, we need only examine the initial factual premise of their claim to uncover another fatal weakness: that state plaintiffs have failed to show that the challenged minimum essential coverage provision, without any prospect of penalty, will harm them by leading more individuals to enroll in these programs,” Breyer wrote.
By striking down the lawsuit based on plaintiffs standing, the justices didn’t have to consider the merits of the case or whether they should sever the individual mandate from the rest of the law. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Congress’ 2017 decision to zero out the individual mandate made it unconstitutional, but the court remanded severability questions.
Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch dissented from the majority,
“I conclude that those provisions are inextricably linked to the individual mandate and that the states have therefore demonstrated on the merits that those other provisions cannot be enforced against them,” Alito wrote in his dissent. “Accordingly, the states are entitled to a judgment providing that they are not obligated to comply with the ACA provisions that burden them.”