Attorney Who Backed Obamacare Suit Confirmed to Sixth Circuit

WASHINGTON (CN) – The Senate on Wednesday confirmed to the Sixth Circuit a top Justice Department attorney who has been involved in some of the Trump administration’s most contentious court fights, including a challenge to the Affordable Care Act.  

Chad Readler cleared the Senate on a 52-47 vote Wednesday afternoon, becoming the second circuit court judge the chamber has confirmed in as many days.

He served as acting assistant attorney general at the Justice Department’s Civil Division from 2017 until May 2018 and now serves as principal deputy assistant attorney general for the Civil Division. Before joining the Justice Department, Readler spent two decades at the Columbus, Ohio office of the firm Jones Day.

By nature of his role leading the Justice Department’s Civil Division, Readler’s name appeared at the top of every brief the department authored, though he said during his nomination hearing in October that his specific level of involvement varied greatly between cases.

That means Readler’s name appears on scores of court briefs that were filed during his time in the position, giving Democrats ample opportunity to tie him to some of the Trump administration’s most high-profile and controversial court cases.

Democrats particularly zeroed in on Readler’s name being including on one brief that argued the requirement in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that most people purchase health insurance is now unconstitutional due to provisions in the tax law Republicans passed in December 2017.  

The judge overseeing the case found the Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare, unconstitutional last December. That decision has been stayed pending appeal.

In the 27-page brief, the federal government noted that the recently passed Republican tax cut bill did away with the penalty for people who do not buy health insurance, a provision that served as the basis for the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision upholding the constitutionality of Obamacare.

Without the penalty, the government argued in the brief, the requirement that most people purchase health insurance could not reasonably fall under Congress’ taxing power as the Supreme Court held.

“In sum, once the associated financial penalty is gone, the ‘tax’ saving construction will no longer be fairly possible and thus the individual mandate will be unconstitutional,” the brief states.

Readler’s name is listed at the bottom of the brief, but it was another Justice Department attorney who signed the document.

The brief led Democrats to portray the vote on Readler’s nomination as a vote on the future of Obamacare, with some suggesting Trump chose Readler precisely because of the arguments he made against the health care law in court.

“Those who say that they want to protect [pre-existing conditions] and vote for the chief cook and bottle washer who pulled them away and was given this nomination the next day, shame on them,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the Senate floor Tuesday.

Readler was also involved in the administration’s defense of President Donald Trump’s executive order barring people from several Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States and in a Supreme Court fight in which the federal government sided with a Christian baker who declined to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding.

When asked about these cases, Readler explained to senators during his nomination hearing that it was his responsibility at the Justice Department to work with career attorneys in the agency to figure out the best method to defend the administration’s policy positions in court. 

“Senator, it is my position to advocate for the United States,” Readler said. “We would not make an argument if I thought it was unethical or frivolous.”

Susan Collins of Maine was the only Republican senator to vote against Readler’s confirmation Wednesday.

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