FederalHealthcareFifth Circuit Court Declares Obamacare Individual Mandate Unconstitutional

The Fifth Circuit provided a largely favorable ruling for the Texas-led lawsuit attempting to strike down Obamacare as unconstitutional.
December 18, 2019
The Fifth Circuit court ruled in favor of the plaintiff in Texas v. United States on Wednesday.

The case concerns Obamacare’s individual mandate — specifically whether the “tax” interpretation of the individual mandate by the Supreme Court is still valid after Congress zeroed out the penalty as part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.

The court ruled it is not.

The Supreme Court, and Chief Justice John Roberts in particular, famously redefined Obamacare’s individual mandate as a tax in NFIB v. Sebelius in order to uphold the law.

This latest challenge, spearheaded by Texas, claimed the law is now unconstitutional after Congress zeroed out the penalty — dubbed an “effective repeal.”

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However, a critical component of the case relies on the severability of the rest of Obamacare (in particular the insurance regulations) from the mandate. That decision was sent back down to a district court.

A group of mostly Democratic-controlled states led by California filed amicus briefs with the court arguing the individual mandate is severable and therefore the entirety of the law should not be struck down in the absence of the mandate’s penalty.

The group of mostly Republican-controlled states led by Texas argued the mandate is not severable and thus the entire law should be struck down as unconstitutional.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) issued its own amicus brief siding with Texas. The conservative Austin-based think tank is representing individual clients who argue Obamacare has caused them harm.

Rob Henneke, TPPF’s general counsel, spoke with The Texan about the ruling.

“[The ruling] means [the plaintiffs] were successful in proving both that the individual mandate is unconstitutional and that all of the plaintiffs have standing because of the ongoing injury caused by the Affordable Care Act,” Henneke stated.

Henneke added that he expects the decision to be appealed to the Supreme Court by the California coalition of states.

About that potential Supreme Court case, Henneke said, “This win was correct because it followed the language of the original Supreme Court ruling where Chief Justice Roberts found that the mandate was unconstitutional.”

“This victory recognizes that the basis that allowed the Supreme Court to save the Affordable Care Act in the NFIB case no longer exists,” he concluded.

With the decision over severability being sent back down to the district court, another step will be required before the challenge reaches the nation’s highest court.

When asked what that means for the overall argument that the whole law should be struck down, Henneke said it’s “to be determined.”


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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.