by jerry on June 20, 2021
The Supreme Court of the United States heard a third challenge to the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and in a 7-2 decision, decided to dismiss the legal arguments on the basis of a lack of standing, or the ability to show that the plaintiffs were actually or were about to be harmed. The first challenge to the ACA that went to the Supreme Court was one of overreach: that the federal government lacked constitutional authority to require citizens to purchase health insurance (known as the individual mandate, to be enforced with a fine administered through tax filings). In that case, the Supreme Court decided that the individual mandate was actually a tax, which Congress is allowed to levy (never mind that some proponents of the ACA specifically said that the individual mandate was not a tax). The crux of the second challenge to the ACA that the Supreme Court heard rested on whether "State" only meant a state (like California), or if it could mean the federal government; the Supreme Court decided on the expanded meaning. Between the first challenge and the most recent challenge, a Republican-controlled Congress legislated that the fine for the individual mandate would be set to zero. The third challenge then refers back to the first challenge: if there is no tax, does the federal government have the authority to pass the ACA, requiring individuals to buy insurance? Interestingly, the court majority decided that the plaintiffs lacked standing, thereby dismissing the case. The dissenting justices provided examples in which they believed the plaintiffs would indeed be harmed by the ACA, as well as cases in which plaintiffs had a more tenuous connection to harm and yet were allowed to sue.
It appears that the majority justices would allow unconstitutional laws to remain in place, as long as there was no penalty. To someone outside the legal profession like me, this allowance seems to place an uneven burden on citizens who wish to be law-abiding even if enforcement is not relevant. The majority's opinion also delays clarity on the merits of the case, allowing for potentially unconstitutional laws to remain in effect until harm can be proved and someone affected sues and that plaintiff is successful in reaching the Supreme Court (which is never guaranteed).
I have read elsewhere that this was probably the best result for both political parties. Portions of the ACA have become popular, and if Republicans are known to dismantle the legislation, they might encounter difficulty getting re-elected. Politics can be messy.