U.S. Supreme Court justices on Tuesday signaled they are unlikely to strike down the Affordable Care Act in a legal challenge brought by Texas and other Republican-led states and backed by President Donald Trump's administration.
In about two hours of arguments by teleconference, Chief Justice John Roberts and fellow conservative Brett Kavanaugh both seemed skeptical of Republican arguments that all of the ACA must fall even if one provision, known as the individual mandate, is found to be unconstitutional.
Chief Justice Roberts noted that Congress did not repeal the entire law in 2017 when it eliminated the financial penalty under the individual mandate. “It's hard for you to argue that Congress intended the entire Act to fall if the mandate were struck down. When the same Congress that lowered the penalty to zero did not even try to repeal the rest of the act. I think, frankly, that they wanted the court to do that. But that’s not our job.”
Both Roberts and Kavanaugh appeared to agree that the mandate to buy insurance can be severed from the rest of the law.
Justice Kavanaugh: “looking at our severability precedents, it does seem fairly clear that the proper remedy would be to sever the mandate provision and leave the rest of the act in place."
House of Representatives attorney Don Verrilli laid out the ramifications of striking down the entire law.
“There is just no way that congress could’ve preferred an outcome that throws 23 million people off their insurance, ends protections for people with pre-existing conditions, and creates chaos in the healthcare sector.”
The case represents the latest Republican legal attack on the 2010 law, which was the signature domestic policy achievement of former President Barack Obama. Republicans also have failed in numerous efforts to repeal Obamacare in Congress, though Trump's administration has taken steps to hobble the law.