A group of 20 blue states and the District of Columbia has formally asked the Supreme Court to intervene early in an ongoing case that holds the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA's) fate in the balance.
The states, led by California and its attorney general, Xavier Becerra, have requested (PDF) that the country’s highest court take up the case in the current term, circumventing a District Court review and a second look from the Fifth Circuit appeals court—and thus expediting the final word in the case.
“This dangerous repeal case jeopardizes the lives of our families, neighbors and millions of Americans who rely on the ACA for their healthcare,” Becerra said in a statement. “We’re asking the Supreme Court to swiftly resolve this repeal lawsuit for the sake of saving lives and ending uncertainty in our healthcare system.”
In December 2018, a Texas District Court Judge Reed O’Connor ruled Congress’ decision to zero out the ACA’s individual mandate penalty rendered the mandate unconstitutional and as such invalidated the entire law.
The decision was quickly appealed to the Fifth Circuit, which ruled last month that the mandate was indeed unconstitutional but sent the case back to the lower level, directing O’Connor to parse the law more closely and determine what, if anything, could remain in place if the mandate were invalidated.
That ruling, legal experts warn, likely adds a significant amount of time to the already lengthy legal proceedings, which appear destined for the Supreme Court regardless.
For one, the Fifth Circuit gave O’Connor limited guidance on elements of the ACA that may be saved, a move that leaves room for him to issue a ruling that is quite like the original—prompting a second visit to the appeals court.
Katie Keith, a law professor at Georgetown University and an expert on this case, said that the Supreme Court could choose to take up the case if four justices vote to do so, but they’re less likely to take on a case that’s still winding through lower courts.
If the Supreme Court elects to move forward with an expedited schedule, it could hear oral arguments as early as March or April, Keith said.