FederalHealthcareJudicialTexas Obamacare Challenge Tossed by U.S. Supreme Court for Lack of Standing

Without getting to the central questions of the case, the nation's highest court dismissed the latest Obamacare challenge citing a lack of standing.
June 17, 2021
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The State of Texas’ legal challenge to Obamacare was tossed out on Thursday by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). The opinion, penned by Justice Stephen Breyer, ruled the plaintiff states lacked standing to challenge the law.

Joined by a bevy of other red states, Texas’ case centered on the individual mandate and its severability from the rest of the extensive health care law.

Plaintiffs alleged that due to Congress’s zeroing out of the financial penalty for failing to enroll in the Obamacare market, the court’s previous justification from NFIB v. Sebelius of the mandate as a taxing power held by Congress was now rendered null and void. Further, because of the foundation of that decision — the individual mandate’s interpretation as a tax — plaintiffs alleged the entire law was “inseverable” from that provision and thus unconstitutional.

Detractors said that Congress chose to leave the individual mandate and the rest of Obamacare in place, and thus the court could not overrule the legislative will. Additionally, they alleged a zeroing out of the individual mandate’s financial penalty did not constitute eliminating the mandate itself.

However, those substantial questions were not even considered in this SCOTUS ruling, with the court dismissing the plaintiffs’ eligibility to bring the suit in the first case. Also among those denied standing were two individual plaintiffs represented by the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF).

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“[W]e conclude that the plaintiffs in this suit failed to show a concrete, particularized injury fairly traceable to the defendants’ conduct in enforcing the specific statutory provision they attack as unconstitutional,” the court’s opinion reads.

The main reason for the judgment on standing is that because the financial penalty, while nominally exists, is substantively eliminated and no injury has been done to the plaintiffs.

Six other justices joined Breyer in the majority opinion: John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett.

The two in dissent were Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch.

Justice Thomas penned a concurring opinion in which he said, “The plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that the harm they suffered is traceable to unlawful conduct. Although this Court has erred twice before in cases involving the Affordable Care Act, it does not err today.”

However, Thomas agreed with the plaintiffs’ arguments on their substantive grounds despite disagreeing on the question of standing.

In the two-man dissent, Alito issued a blistering criticism of the court, stating, “No one can fail to be impressed by the lengths to which this Court has been willing to go to defend the ACA against all threats.”

Alito then listed out a wide array of case law aiming to prove that the states had been granted standing in similar circumstances.

“A penalty is a tax. The United States is a State. And 18 States who bear costly burdens under the ACA cannot even get a foot in the door to raise a constitutional challenge. So a tax that does not tax is allowed to stand and support one of the biggest Government programs in our Nation’s history. Fans of judicial inventiveness will applaud once again.”

Back in December 2019, the Fifth Circuit Court ruled in favor of Texas’ case, declaring the individual mandate unconstitutional but remanded the second order question of severability back to a lower court. In March of last year, SCOTUS agreed to take the full case and oral arguments began a week after the 2020 election concluded.

Because the Trump administration did not go to bat for Obamacare, the State of California, joined by a litany of other blue states, filed amicus briefs defending the health care law.

“Today’s opinion doesn’t resolve anything,” Rob Henneke, general counsel for TPPF, told The Texan, “and it should be unsatisfying for Americans still stuck with a broken health care system that is forcing on them rationed care and bankruptcy because of the costs.”

After the implementation of Obamacare, costs of coverage and overall care increased for many Americans not eligible for public assistance programs like Medicaid. Additionally, the “if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor” promise made by then-President Barack Obama did not hold water.

“For the third time in a row, the court contorted itself to bail out Congress from the consequences of the law they passed. Today resolves little except the clear expression from the court that they did not want to tackle the central questions presented here.”

Obamacare has now survived three lawsuits before SCOTUS — two on its merits and one on a technicality. 

Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston), the House’s chief proponent of expanding Medicaid through Obamacare, celebrated the decision, stating, “Once again the ACA has stood up to a Republican legal challenge. It is well overdue for Texas to expand Medicaid to help over a million Texans get access to quality healthcare.”

President Joe Biden has said he intends to expand the law even more from its current form, including requiring states to expand Medicaid.

Texas’ challenge was the most substantial in recent years and its faltering by failure to prove standing is a blow to those who hope to eliminate the law.

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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is 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.