Health Care

5th Circ. Puts ACA Appeal On Fast Track

The Fifth Circuit agreed Wednesday to speed up a closely watched legal battle over the Affordable Care Act, setting oral arguments for July.

The government had asked the Fifth Circuit on April 8 if it would expedite the timeline of the case. The Republican-led states that filed the lawsuit challenging the Obama administration’s signature legislative achievement did not oppose the motion.

The appeal stems from a Texas federal judge’s decision in December that the entire Affordable Care Act must fall because its individual mandate is unconstitutional. The government appealed the controversial decision but reversed course in a March brief, telling the Fifth Circuit that it agrees the whole law should be scrapped.

A group of blue states that signed onto the case to defend the ACA also filed a brief in the Fifth Circuit last month, calling the ruling “unsound in all aspects.”

Those states, which include California and New York, were joined in their opinion by the U.S. House of Representatives, which filed its own brief labeling the ruling an overreach.

The GOP states’ brief is due May 1 under the expedited case schedule.

Those states, which include Texas and Arizona, sued the federal government over the ACA in 2018. They argued that the law’s individual mandate — upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court as a valid exercise of Congress’ taxation power — became unconstitutional when congressional Republicans repealed the accompanying tax penalty.

Since the individual mandate was unconstitutional, they argued, the rest of the law should be struck down as well because of how closely it was linked to the mandate.

The district court agreed in December in a ruling that shocked many, saying “Congress was explicit” about the individual mandate, which the court ruled unconstitutional, being so “essential” to the ACA that the mandate’s demise spelled the end for the whole law.

The government promptly asked the Fifth Circuit to intervene, but in late March, it filed a brief dropping its opposition to the ruling.

The district court’s ruling has been widely criticized by legal scholars. Its conclusion, and the government’s new position, have little support outside of conservative legal circles. Groups representing insurers, doctors, hospitals, seniors and consumers have overwhelmingly said the ACA should continue to operate.

Attorneys general for the states of California, New York, Texas and Arizona were not immediately available for comment Wednesday. The U.S. Department of Justice declined to comment.

The plaintiff states are represented by their respective attorneys general.

The defendant states are represented by their respective attorneys general. The House is represented by Munger Tolles & Olson LLP, the Constitutional Accountability Center and the Office of General Counsel for the U.S. House of Representatives.

The U.S. is represented by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The case is Texas et al. v. U.S. et al., case number 19-10011, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.