The Supreme Court will not hear a GOP-backed challenge to the Affordable Care Act until after the election, a move that will likely help Republicans narrowly swerve around a showdown over a lawsuit that figures prominently during a campaign season marred by the coronavirus pandemic.
The case is an extension of President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign pledge to repeal and replace the Obama-era Affordable Care Act in a move that would strip roughly 20 million Americans of health insurance.
While congressional Republicans failed to strike-down the ACA in 2017 — largely due to the late Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) thumbs-down vote — Texas and other Republican-led states later challenged the law’s constitutionality in court, an effort vigorously supported by the Trump administration.
In 2012, Chief Justice John Roberts cast the determining vote to uphold the ACA, arguing that the individual mandate was valid at the time under Congress’ taxing power. In a tax code overhaul, Congress removed the individual mandate penalty for people who do not purchase health insurance in 2017.
In December of last year, a federal appeals court held that the individual mandate was unconstitutional but it deferred to the nation’s highest court to rule on calls that the entirety of the law should fall. Republican challengers have argued that because the individual mandate was woven into other provisions, the entire law should fall, including protections for people with preexisting conditions.
In briefs about the lawsuit filed in the Supreme Court at the beginning of this year, the Justice Department and a separate group of attorneys general from Republican-led states, requested that the court not take on the case this year, likely to avoid fallout from disgruntled voters during an election year where health concerns weigh heavily on the minds of many Americans, especially now that COVID-19 has killed more than 170,000 people across the country.
In July, a schedule released by the court indicated that the justices would not hear the ACA case in October after they return for their fall term.
The news at that time came as relief to many Republicans in projected close races, who feared the lawsuit could bear damaging consequences for the party. The latest docket report announcing the SCOTUS hearing will take place just one week after the election, ensures that — in the absence of a decision — the ACA can likely remain at a safe distance as Trump campaigns for reelection and GOP candidates race for congressional seats.