The Affordable Care Act is Back in Court

Beginning today, a federal appeals court in New Orleans is deciding whether or not to uphold an earlier lower court’s decision deeming the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional. Upholding the earlier decision in Texas v. United States would impact 20 million Americans covered under the landmark law and strip 133 million people with preexisting medical conditions of protection.

Hundreds of activists gathered in front of the Supreme Court in 2012 to show their support for the Affordable Care Act. (David Sachs / SEIU)

“Millions have benefited from being eligible for insurance coverage under the ACA, including gaining access to preventive services such as STI screening and contraception,” Debra Hauser, President of Advocates for Youth, said in a statement today. “The 5th Circuit must overturn this decision and uphold medical best practices, common sense and basic human decency.”

The 2018 suit, filed by a group of Republican Attorneys General and Governors, argued that the ACA was no longer constitutional as the 2017 tax cut bill eliminated the individual mandate penalty. U.S. District Attorney Judge Reed C. O’Connor agreed, and proudly bragged in his decision that the 2017 bill “sawed off the last leg (the ACA) stood on.”

A team of 20 Attorneys General, led by California’s Xavier Bacerra, is now defending the ACA in court. “Since President Trump refuses to protect Americans’ healthcare, California’s coalition has picked up his fumble,” Bacerra said in a statement prepared for the New Orleans Fifth Circuit Court. “Our argument is simple: the health and wellbeing of nearly every American is at risk. Healthcare can mean the difference between life and death, financial stability and bankruptcy. Our families’ wellbeing should not be treated as a political football. We’ll see the Trump Administration in court to make sure it isn’t.”

The breakdown of the panel ruling on the decision stands along political lines, as does the legal counsel. Three judges, two of which are Republican appointees, are overseeing the case; 17 lawyers from the Trump Administration and Republican Attorneys General are opposing the Democratic AGs.

This case could put the future of the ACA in front of the Supreme Court during the 2020 election season—and it comes in the wake of restrictive abortion bans across the country eroding women’s access to comprehensive healthcare and ceaseless attacks on Title X funding for family planning services. It also highlights the importance of state Attorneys General, which candidates for the post running now have been reminding constituents. In the last few years, Attorneys General have played key roles in defending contraceptive access and immigrant rights in the wake of extreme decisions from the administration.

“The health-care debate is too often limited to what is happening at Congress,” Democratic Attorneys General Association political director Farah Melendez told the Washington Post, “whereas the real action is often happening at the state AG level.”


Rachel Kennedy is an Editorial Intern at Ms. and Associate Opinion Editor for The Daily Princetonian. A Bostonian by birth and a feminist by choice, she hopes to empower women by sharing their stories. She is particularly interested in covering maternal healthcare, women activists, pop culture, and politics. Rachel currently studies History, Journalism, and African American studies at Princeton University.