This week, a federal judge in Texas ruled that a key part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, was unconstitutional.
The judge ruled that a change instituted by the Trump administration eliminating the tax penalties for not having insurance undermined the legitimacy of the law.
Speaking to Maureen Cavanaugh, host of KPBS’ Midday Edition, California Western’s Prof. Glenn Smith explained how the judge came to that decision.
“In the district judge's view,” said Prof. Smith, “when the Supreme Court upheld Obamacare they said the individual mandate and the tax penalty for not having insurance was a package and it was constitutional and only for that reason.”
Prof. Smith said that according to the judge if what made the individual mandate valid was the tax penalty and Congress repealed the tax penalty, it kind of knocked out the leg that the individual mandate was standing on.
“It's a breathtaking opinion going even beyond what the Trump administration had argued,” said Prof. Smith.
Explaining why eliminating the individual mandate makes everything about the ACA invalid Prof. Smith said, “This was critical to the whole legislative design. And so under a doctrine called severability if you can't neatly sever the unconstitutional provision and leave a workable statute behind you're supposed to strike down as much of the statute that's tied to the bad part.”
Commenting on what's the next step in the legal process, Prof Smith said that it was not clear. “I assume that states like California will try to get a quick appeal on this,” he said. “But interestingly enough the district court didn't fully resolve all the issues and didn't say that Obamacare is no longer valid. So it's not clear when the appeal can be brought.”
To hear Prof. Smith’s entire interview with KPBS’ Maureen Cavanaugh go to: https://www.kpbs.org/audioclips/42784/#transcript