(CN) – Declining to take up the dispute before Election Day, the Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected a plea by the House of Representatives and a coalition of mostly Democrat-led states to expedite review of Texas’ lawsuit seeking to invalidate the Affordable Care Act.
The high court’s one-sentence order hands the Trump administration and 18 Republican-led states a victory in not making the lawsuit a campaign flash point. Filed in February 2018 in Fort Worth federal court, Texas’ complaint alleges the Republican-enacted Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 effectively gutted the ACA – better known as Obamacare – when it reduced the individual mandate tax penalty to zero.
The Republican states rely on an earlier Supreme Court ruling that upheld Obamacare in 2015. The justices concluded the mandate would be an unconstitutional exercise of federal power without the tax penalty.
U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor, a George W. Bush appointee, agreed in December 2018, issuing a partial summary judgment that invalidated the individual mandate and declared the law’s remaining provisions as “inseverable and therefore invalid.”
On appeal, a three-judge panel of the New Orleans-based Fifth Circuit affirmed last month that the individual mandate is unconstitutional, but declined to invalidate the law in its entirety.
The court sent the case back down to O’Connor to consider the validity of the remaining provisions of the landmark health care law, a signature legislative accomplishment of former President Barack Obama.
Republicans’ zeroing out of the tax penalty three years ago was a last-ditch effort at invalidating Obamacare after repeatedly failing throughout 2017 to legislatively repeal the law, despite having majorities in both houses of Congress.
California Attorney General Xavier Beccera is leading the defense of the law after the Trump administration declined to do so. He said Democrats are “cautiously optimistic” the high court will agree to review the case by its next term starting in October.
In addition to California, the states now defending the law include: Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Kentucky, plus the District of Columbia.