U.S. Supreme Court considers ACA’s individual mandate

On November 10, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear California v. Texas via teleconference with live audio. California v. Texas concerns the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare.

President Barack Obama (D) signed the ACA into law in 2010. Section 5000A of the ACA, known as the individual mandate, established requirements for individuals to have health coverage and instituted fines for those without coverage. In National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius (2012), SCOTUS upheld Section 5000A as “an exercise of Congress’s taxing power.” In 2017, Congress set the amount of the shared responsibility payment at zero, effective January 1, 2019.

In 2018, 20 states filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas challenging the individual mandate and claiming the ACA was unconstitutional. The lawsuit stated, “Once the heart of the ACA—the individual mandate—is declared unconstitutional, the remainder of the ACA must also fall.” Judge Reed O’Connor ruled the ACA was invalid. On appeal, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ruled the individual mandate was unconstitutional. The 5th Circuit sent the case back to the Northern District of Texas, asking the district court to consider how much of the ACA could remain with the individual mandate considered unconstitutional.

A group of states petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for review, arguing (1) the respondents do not have the legal right to challenge the ACA and (2) the ACA is constitutional.

The issues:

(1) Whether plaintiffs have the legal right to challenge the individual mandate. 

(2) Whether reducing the amount specified for fines in Section 5000A(c) to zero made the individual mandate provision unconstitutional.

(3) If so, whether the individual mandate provision is severable from the rest of the ACA, i.e., whether the remainder of the ACA can remain in place if the individual mandate provision is unconstitutional.

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