California v. Texas is the latest trial of Obamacare at the Supreme Court, and the justices have refused to rule on the merits of the case. Texas sued to have the Obamacare mandate declared unconstitutional, but the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday, June 17, 2021, that the petitioners did not have standing to bring the challenge. The decision hinged on the fact that the penalty for disobeying the mandated requirement to buy insurance now has no enforceable penalty. The ruling was 7-2; Justice Stephen Breyer wrote the majority opinion, joined by Justices John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Barrett joined. Justice Thomas wrote a separate concurring opinion.
Standing to sue
“Texas and the other state plaintiffs have similarly failed to show that the pocketbook injuries they allege are traceable to the Government’s allegedly unlawful conduct,” The Court held. Without a penalty for noncompliance, Obamacare’s mandate is unenforceable. “The individuals have not shown that any kind of Government action or conduct has caused or will cause the injury they attribute to [Obamacare’s mandate].”
Congress passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, and President Trump signed it into law in December 2017. Although the legislation left the Affordable Care Act intact, it repealed the individual mandate penalty as of 2019. Without that penalty, there is essentially no injury to people who refuse to purchase insurance. “The Court’s cases have consistently spoken of the need to assert an injury that is the result of a statute’s actual or threatened enforcement, whether today or in the future.”
Justice Samuel Alito’s dissent called the case the “third installment in our epic Affordable Care Act trilogy.” He wrote:
“… Texas and the other state plaintiffs have standing, and now that the ‘tax’ imposed by the individual mandate is set at $0, the mandate cannot be sustained under the taxing power. As a result, it is clearly unconstitutional ….”
Justice Thomas, who wrote separately, praised Justice Alito’s dissent but ultimately decided to rule with the other side. “The plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that the harm they suffered is traceable to unlawful conduct,” he said. “Although this Court has erred twice before in cases involving the Affordable Care Act, it does not err today.”
Like a wolf without teeth, the mandate will continue to operate as a function of law with no possibility of enforcement unless the law changes. We will surely see a fourth turn at bat on Obamacare at the Supreme Court if it does.
Read more from Scott D. Cosenza.