State attorneys general counter Trump administration, say it doesn't have legal standing to ask courts to gut ACA

Affordable Care Act
The battle over the legality of the Affordable Care Act continues. (Getty/zimmytws)

As the ongoing dispute over the legality of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) inches toward oral arguments, attorneys general seeking to defend the law argue that their opponents—including the Department of Justice (DOJ)—have poor legal standing to challenge the law.

In a brief (PDF) submitted by the state attorneys general this week, they argue that the ACA is not rendered unconstitutional overall because the individual mandate was repealed, as Congress did not roll back other provisions.

It’s “no secret” that the ACA opposition is politically motivated, they said in the brief, but that doesn’t provide an effective legal standing to strike down the entire law.

“Plaintiffs assert that this ‘case is not about whether the ACA is good or bad policy,’ but rather about ‘the proper text-based interpretation of statutes,’” the attorneys general said. “Yet they ask this court to do what Congress—after years of debate and deliberation—repeatedly refused to do: dismantle the entire Affordable Care Act.”

RELATED: DOJ injects further uncertainty into ACA markets—but for some it’s just more legal ‘noise’ 

The attorneys general also argue that the individual mandate is not unconstitutional because it was repealed—though it’s no longer legally enforceable.  

That section of the law sticks with the Supreme Court’s ruling that the mandate offers people a rational choice between a tax penalty and gaining coverage; the penalty has just been set to zero, the attorneys general said. 

The case is on appeal after a District Court judge in Texas ruled in December that the individual mandate repeal invalidated the ACA in its entirety. Healthcare industry groups have decried the decision and warn of the significant consequences that could follow if the ACA is struck down wholesale. 

DOJ initially declined to defend the ACA, but in March it indicated that it would now side with the red states calling for the law to be ruled unconstitutional. The department laid out its full argument in a brief earlier this month, puzzling some legal experts as it seemed DOJ wants to see the ACA tossed but also wants control over how much of it is eliminated. 

In a statement, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who’s leading the coalition of states defending the law, said he and his fellow attorneys general are committed to defending the ACA “every step of the way.” 

“The Trump administration has made it clear that it will not defend Americans’ healthcare and the law that tens of millions of Americans across the country depend on—so our fight continues,” Becerra said. 

In the meantime, the other provisions of the ACA remain in effect as the legal case plays out. Oral arguments in the appeal are planned for July.