The fate of former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act is, once again, before the Supreme Court. On Tuesday, the justices will hear arguments in California v. Texas on how to handle the statute now that Congress has eliminated a crucial provision.
In 2012, the Supreme Court held the “most natural interpretation” of the ACA’s individual mandate was as an unconstitutional command for Americans to buy insurance but that, due to the accompanying penalty for noncompliance, it was “fairly possible” to read the penalty as a tax. It possessed “the essential feature of any tax: It produces at least some revenue for the government,” the court explained.
But since then, Congress eliminated the penalty. So it no longer provides revenue for the government and can only be read as the “most natural interpretation” — an unconstitutional command to buy insurance.
Congress did not include an explicit clause in the law concerning what to do if the individual mandate is unconstitutional. Therefore, the Supreme Court’s obligation now is to follow what Congress would have wanted if the individual mandate were struck down.
Congress specified that the individual mandate was “essential” to the ACA, and that its “absence … would undercut federal regulation of the health insurance market.”
Despite the fact this language was relegated to the legislative findings section of the statute, it is nonetheless the most suggestive evidence of Congress’ intent we have.
Regardless of whether the ACA was a just or effective plan for helping people gain access to health care, the Supreme Court’s job is not to decide matters of policy. That is for the elected branches of our government.
Democracy can only function if courts abide by the will of the people as expressed, however imperfectly, through our congressional representatives. Setting aside controversies over legal standing, the Supreme Court should respect Congress’ finding that the individual mandate is “essential” to the ACA and hold the law invalid in its entirety.
Devin Watkins is an attorney with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free market public policy organization based in Washington, D.C.
Read the full article at USA Today.