DOJ says it's premature for Supreme Court to hear case challenging legality of ACA

Supreme Court
The Trump administration argues that it is premature for the Supreme Court to hear a case challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. (Getty/BrianPIrwin)

The Supreme Court does not need to intervene in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), according to the Department of Justice (DOJ).

The DOJ response, filed Friday (PDF), said an attempt by 20 blue states to circumvent a lower court’s review of the lawsuit is not necessary because the ruling did not go into effect.

The blue states appealed to the Supreme Court earlier this month to intervene in the lawsuit, which was filed by Texas and 17 red states, after the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the ACA’s individual mandate was unconstitutional. But the appeals court punted on the point of whether the rest of the law should be scrapped, instead deferring to a lower court on the issue.

The blue states, led by California, argued that the Supreme Court should intervene now and circumvent the Fifth Circuit’s request for a review. The repeal case “jeopardizes the lives of our families, neighbors and millions of Americans who rely on the ACA for their healthcare,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra in a statement.

RELATED: Appeals court ruling leaves large swaths of ACA in judge's crosshairs, experts say

But DOJ, which is supporting the lawsuit, said that it isn’t necessary for the high court to intervene, as the ACA remains in effect while a lower court considers whether the mandate is severable from the rest of the law. The Fifth Circuit’s decision does not “warrant immediate review because it did not definitively resolve any question of practical consequence,” the DOJ’s filing said.

The real meat of the ruling is that the individual mandate is unconstitutional, but, as the 2017 tax reform law reduced the monetary policy to zero, the mandate has been effectively repealed already, DOJ said.

“As the case comes to this court, no lower-court ruling exists on severability or the appropriate remedy,” the DOJ filing said. “Far from being urgently needed, this court’s review thus would be premature.”

RELATED: Kentucky, West Virginia among states that would be hit hardest by an ACA rollback

DOJ wants the Supreme Court to wait until a final decision from the Fifth Circuit on whether the entire law should go now that the mandate is unconstitutional.

But the blue states are hoping to get the case on the Supreme Court’s 2020 docket and will need to convince four justices to vote to hear it. If the states are successful, this year the court could hear its third challenge to the ACA since its passage in 2010.