Supreme Court Leaves Obamacare Trapped in Legal Limbo

The justices declined a Democratic request to fast track a decision on the law.


From practically the moment it was signed into law 10 years ago, Obamacare has been trapped in judicial limbo. The various lawsuits against it—challenging the legality of the individual mandate, the Medicaid expansion requirements, various insurance subsidies, the individual mandate (again), the insurance regulations, and even the entire construct of the law—have kept the law in legal and political purgatory, its fate never quite determined.

Thanks to the Supreme Court, it appears likely that it will stay that way through this year's election and into next year. The Court today rejected a request by a group of Democratic state officials and members of the House of Representatives to fast-track a decision on the latest challenge to the law, meaning the law's legal fate probably won't be determined until sometime next year. 

At the beginning of this year, a coalition of blue states supporting the law had asked the High Court to speed up consideration of the case, the jointly named California v. Texas and House of Representatives v. Texas, which has been working its way through the lower courts for the better part of a year. In December, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ruled that the law's mandate, which was upheld as a tax in 2012 and then zeroed out by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in 2017, was unconstitutional since it no longer raised any revenue

The 5th Circuit punted, however, on the broader question of what its ruling meant for the rest of the law, sending it back to a lower court that had previously ruled that, absent the mandate, the entire statute must be struck down. 

In the short term, the 5th Circuit ruling had essentially no practical effect: The mandate had already been functionally eliminated by the 2017 tax law, which reduced its tax penalty to zero. Yet it returned questions about the law's fate to a judge who had already said he believed the entire statute should go under any reading of the evidence. 

The Democrats behind the petition to fast-track the Supreme Court ruling on the case had clearly hoped to make the issue more salient in this year's election; the Trump administration made the unusual decision not to defend the law in court, and health care is an issue that helped propel Democrats to victory in the 2018 election. The Trump administration, in turn, filed a brief saying that waiting to hear the case would be fine.

In the narrow sense, this is probably a victory for President Trump and Republican critics of the law. But by leaving the case's final resolution up in the air, it nevertheless keeps it alive as a political issue, and gives Democrats who support the law an argument to make against Republicans, particularly Trump, who support the administration's decision not to defend it in court. 

Unlike several of the previous legal challenges to the health law, I believe this particular case rests on a largely flimsy argument. Other staunch critics of Obamacare have also said it lacks legal merit

Yet the fact that the law is still in court, its entire fate hanging in the balance nearly a decade after passage, is a reminder of its fundamental political weakness. An unusually complex statute predicated on dubious constitutional notions and passed on a party line vote without majority support from the public was nearly certain to be under constant threat from legal attacks—some with merit, some perhaps without. The law's supporters assumed that it would amass political support over time, insulating it from threats. It is true that Obamacare has become more popular under Trump (probably in part because of GOP attempts to weaken it). But thanks to both the lasting partisan backlash to the law and the convoluted legal rationales for upholding it, the legal challenges have continued, and its future remains in doubt. Obamacare was born into limbo, and there it is likely to stay. 

NEXT: Mitch McConnell Revises Impeachment Rules After Bipartisan Backlash

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  1. Obamacare is a total failure, unless it’s purpose was to convince even the most die hard free market fans that single payer might actually be better than this mess.

    1. What makes you think that wasn’t its purpose?

      1. Probably what’s left of my naivete.

    2. Ugh, another post making me wish the real Palin’s Buttplug was still around. He was always so effective at defending every aspect of Obama’s legacy.


      1. OBL, do you have any relatives who worked in the retail security industry?


        “I know what you mean. The Neo’s are getting fierce around here, the NeoNazis, they have just recently discovered the Grizzly Big Boar .50BMG rifle, and since they must be getting funding from someone, perhaps that well known surviving faction in E. Geermany [Not the East Geermans!], I can’t confiscate their cut down versions before they’re right back with another one but fortunately, since their MO is surpise and concealment, the fools don’t bother to put even a cheap Leapers scope on them, and that gives me that tacticla advantage, and thgus far they have missed both time they shot the decoy before confiscation could be initiated.

        I have never had to deal with bolt action sniper rifles, these punk’s tastes run to Ack-Ack guns, and I have taken away 4 stens that they probably stole from Grandaddy’s closet, a Thompson hacked short on both ends,a and more pistol-gripped AK clones than i care to count. These kids want blood, and since they will have to go through me to shed any in my mall, I am constantly doging near misses and ricochets, I have taken to doubling up on my regular regimen on Body armor, as you probaly knwo.”

        1. “Gecko45, that is a very difficult decision to make. I was faced with the same situation years ago—I was working for a smaller security organization, me were regularily rotated between 4 stations. A local Food City supermarket was designated Sector Alpha-Niner, the Jiffy Lube was Bravo-Lima-Fiver, the local $1 movie theater was Golf-16 and finally, the most coveted assignment, the local mall or Zebra-1.Back then, before the corporate sponsorship, our gear was severely limited due to out of pocket expenses. I was armed with a Glock17 (one of the first into the country, given to me by Gaston Glock personally in honor of my former black-ops experiences) and a Rem870P 14″ bbl folder loaded with 000 magnums.On this particular fateful day my team was assigned to patrol Sector Zebra-1, the mall. It was an uneventful day, until the unthinkable happened…It was about 8:45PM, and the mall was closing and nearly empty. Me and my ’shadow’ were sweeping quadrant 069E, the mall arcade, a known hotspot for Asian Gangs and assorted thugs. The arcade was located at the far east end of the mall, next to the movie theater and the orange julius.I smelled trouble, and couldn’t spot any movement from the arcade, which was unusual due to the presence of a new Mortal Compact arcade game. Those Asians Gangs love Mortal Combat.I went to “condition red,” and discretely unholstered my Glock17 loaded with Black Talons. I motioned to my partner to sweep right to flank the arcade, but he was already in motion sensing the trouble in my facial expression. My partner drew his S&W 1006 and went prone behind a potted palm tree.I crept towards the arcade, when the power went out. It was an ambush! I could still see relatively well due to the full moon, shining through the building’s skylights, and years in a dark secret Russian prison center had honed my natural night vision to that of a tomcat.A perp popped up from behind the Orange Julius counter with a full auto Kalashnikov with a 75rd drum, and opened up in the direction of my partner, meanwhile two perps popped up from behind the skeeball machine with sawed off 12 gauges. Another two perps appeared on the upper level and brought down hell-fire on us from above. One had a Winchester Model 70 in .30-06 with a 10x scope and the other was laying down suppressive fire with a Mac10 variant. The perps were all sporting cheap russian NVGs.I dove under a metal bench, and lined my sights on the AK bandit. A double-tap to the chest, and a quick follow-up to the head brought him down like a sack of potatos. My partner had been hit in the leg by some buckshot but he kept fighting like a champ, he took out one of the shotgunners with a 10mm hollowpoint to the temple, while I started unloading into the glass partition that surrounded the upper level. When the sniper ran for cover I drew a bead on him, adjusted for distance, and dropped two into his abdomen. The Mac-man ran for it, at the sight of the bloody guts pouring out his partner’s stomach.I did a quick tactical reload, grabbed the 870P from the harness on my back, and did some rolls over to the movie theater and back flipped over the concession counter while unloading the 5 rounds of 000 into the skeeball machine. My partner was pinned down, I tossed the empty 870, and realized I couldn’t hit the remaining perp due to my the poor angle of attack. I had to act fast or my partner was done for. I leap over the counter again, and low crawled towards the arcade unseen. I crept behind the Mrs. PacMan game, and when I heard the perp reload, jumped up with my trusty K-Bar, and threw it into the perp’s arm, pinning him against the wall behind him.When the smoke cleared, we had three dead perps, and two very scared prisoners. My partner was slighting wounded but he would live to fight another dayl. The company goons came in fast by chopper, to cover up the situation. The remaining perps were flown to a company detention center, and we never found out what happened to them, or why they made such a vicious attack. My belief is that they were planning to hijack the coveted Mortal Combat game unit.The remaining customers and employees were paid off to cover their emotional distress and to keep their mouths shut. Later an unknown shadowy figure in an expensive black suit (obviously a high ranking company guy) came to me as I was reloading my Rem870 (in case of a second wave of attackers) and offered me the job opportunity of a lifetime…

          I don’t know if I made the right decision that day. I will always fondly remember the days of mall security, the expressions on the thankful patrons you saved from certain molestation in the mall bathrooms. The look of pain in the drooling face of the shoplifter you just choke-holded to unconciousness.

          Yes my new job is more exotic and the gear is better, but would I trade it all for one more day as a mall security rep? I don’t know the answer to that question.

          Gecko45, just remember, you always have a place available with my company. No matter what you choose!

          Stay safe brother!”

          1. Isn’t that the thread with the immortal line, “If your Plan A involves taking multiple .338 rounds to the back, you really need a Plan B.”

            Oh, Gecko45. May you take your place with Ivan Chesnikov, the German Shepard looking through the spotting scope, and ‘that shoulder thing that goes up’, in eternal Internet lore.

    3. “Obamacare is a total failure”

      Interesting statement without a great deal of facts to support the statement. In fact the ACA (Obamacare for you) has addresses preexisting conditions, preventive health care services, lifetime limits, parity for mental health, and gender neutrality. Allowing you people to remain on their parents insurance as they get themselves started in business. The increased popularity of the ACA is a result of people finding that they like the services it provides. Many of the problems with the ACA are a direct results of attempt to undermine the law.

  2. It’s actually in a penalimbo.

    1. Not sure what the hell he’s doing there – I mean I know his husband is down there, but if I were Glenn I’d leave Brazil as soon as humanly possible.

      1. He saw what Obama was doing to whistleblowers and left town

        Suderman loves impeachment so much, he must have talked about impeaching Obama for attacking whistleblowers but I can’t seem to find it

  3. >>>fundamental political weakness

    plus it was designed to fail George Carlin style.

  4. Oh goody! We’ll get to see Chief Justice Roberts pull another rabbit out of his ass.

  5. Hey Suderman where’s your article about impeaching Obama for this disaster? I mean, it’s no phone call to political allies but for all the shit you talk I haven’t heard a thing about impeaching your brown god.

    You’re such a hack

  6. California v. Texas
    Didn’t they fight that back in the 19th Century?

  7. When ACA became the law of the land (because it’s a tax according to allegedly conservative justices) my monthly healthcare expenses tripled. Many of my co-works were stuck choosing levels they couldn’t afford so they just lied and said they did.

    I have yet to hear a single logical argument as to why it was a good idea.

  8. Strange that a law granting the federal government authority over a major aspect of private life and the economy might be considered as having dubious constitutional justification. It is almost as if people believe the federal government has limited powers to compel the private citizens to do its bidding. But that is a flimsy argument, is it not, Suderman?

    1. ” It is almost as if people believe the federal government has limited powers” — Could it be true!!

      Maybe in TX but just not seeing much of that in CA… Maybe the most Unconstitutional part about it was being federally implemented!! As is another 100,000 other bills and agencies.

  9. I’m still hoping we can achieve a partial birth abortion on this one.

  10. Give people free money, and they’ll quickly start assuming that it was theirs all along.

    And …

    Voters are always willing to be bought. They call them entitlements for a reason.

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