Rutledge Issues Statement on SCOTUS Decision Recognizing that Obamacare is Unenforceable

Says, ‘At no point in today’s decision do the Supreme Court Justices address the merits of our argument that Obamacare is unconstitutional’

LITTLE ROCK – Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge issued a statement following today’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to reject a challenge to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on procedural grounds. Arkansas was a part of an 18-state coalition arguing that the ACA’s individual mandate is unconstitutional. Today’s decision recognized that the individual mandate has no teeth and is unenforceable.

“At no point in today’s decision do the Supreme Court Justices address the merits of our argument that Obamacare is unconstitutional,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “Arkansans deserve better, and I will continue to urge Congress to establish a comprehensive healthcare law that will allow states to be flexible while ensuring coverage for pre-existing conditions.”

In 2012, a majority of the Supreme Court upheld Obamacare against a constitutional challenge because it said the individual mandate was a valid exercise of Congress’s tax power. But a different majority also held that Congress did not have the power to impose the individual mandate under the Constitution’s Commerce Clause. As Chief Justice Roberts explained, and the four-justice dissent agreed, the Commerce Clause gives Congress the power to regulate commerce — but not to compel it, which is what the individual mandate does.

In 2017, Congress eliminated the tax portion of the individual mandate as part of President Donald J. Trump’s tax overhaul.  Rutledge then joined a multistate lawsuit filed in a Texas federal court, arguing that Congress rendered Obamacare unconstitutional by doing away with the tax penalty.

Judge Reed O’Connor of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas agreed and ruled that the individual mandate was no longer valid under Congress’s tax power. Applying the Supreme Court’s 2012 holding that the Commerce Clause could not support the individual mandate, Judge O’Connor struck it down as unconstitutional. He then ruled that Congress would not have passed Obamacare without the individual mandate because it was an essential part of the law. Therefore, he also invalidated the entire law.

A group of states led by California had joined the lawsuit to defend Obamacare, and they appealed Judge O’Connor’s decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.  In December 2019, however, the Fifth Circuit rejected California’s arguments and agreed instead with those made by the 18-state coalition including Arkansas: that Obamacare’s individual mandate is unconstitutional. 

The Supreme Court did not reach those arguments. Instead, it decided that Congress’s decision to remove the tax penalty meant Obamacare couldn’t be enforced against individuals and, as a result, neither the states nor the individual plaintiffs could sue.

The Supreme Court cases are California v. Texas, No. 19-840, and Texas v. California, No. 19-1019. The full decision can be viewed here.

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