Under the Trump administration, the White House sided with Texas in a Supreme Court case challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or Obamacare, as part of a lawsuit expected to be decided later this year.
Although oral arguments have already been heard, President Joe Biden’s administration has nevertheless notified the high court that the federal government’s position on the matter has changed, the Washington Examiner reports.
New administration, new position
Of course, given the fact that Biden served as vice president in the Obama administration for which the health care law is unofficially named, it is hardly surprising that Biden would express support of the controversial program.
As it relates to this specific case, however, it is unclear what sort of impact the executive branch’s about-face might have on the court’s final ruling. It is unlikely that there will be any new briefings or hearings, but the official change in the White House’s position will give justices something to consider along with the other evidence before them.
Deputy Solicitor General Edwin Kneedler summarized the new administration’s position in a letter delivered on Wednesday to the Supreme Court clerk.
In it, he mentioned that the Biden White House had “reconsidered” the facts of the case, coming to a different conclusion than its predecessor.
Specifically, the prior administration argued that the law’s individual mandate, or a tax penalty for the uninsured, was “inseverable” from the rest of the ACA after Congress reduced the penalty to zero in 2017, thus determining that the rest of the law was both unenforceable and unconstitutional.
The DOJ “has reconsidered”
“Following the change in Administration, the Department of Justice has reconsidered the government’s position in these cases,” Kneedler wrote. “The purpose of this letter is to notify the Court that the United States no longer adheres to the conclusions in the previously filed brief of the federal respondents.”
In support of the argument that the ACA is constitutional, the Biden administration noted that Congress merely reduced the individual mandate penalty to zero instead of stripping it from the law entirely.
“In the view of the United States, Congress’s decision to reduce the payment amount to zero therefore did not convert Section 5000A from a provision affording a constitutional choice into an unconstitutional mandate to maintain insurance,” Kneedler explained. “Rather than imposing a new burden on covered individuals, the 2017 amendment preserved the choice between lawful options and simply eliminated any financial or negative legal consequence from choosing not to enroll in health coverage.”
Biden signed an executive order last month that made it the federal government’s policy to protect and strengthen the ACA, revoking orders signed by Trump that weakened it.
Concurrent with that order was a “fact sheet” explaining that the president’s action had authorized a special enrollment period for the purchase of ACA-approved health insurance plans as well as a review of procedures at the agency level to ensure the law was not being retroactively undermined by the Trump administration.