President Biden on Wednesday changed the federal government’s position in a Supreme Court case where former President Donald Trump challenged the Affordable Care Act’s constitutionality.
The case, California v. Texas, was argued a week after the 2020 election. Many legal experts predicted that Biden would drop the government’s offense on the act soon after he took office. In a letter to the court, Deputy Solicitor General Edwin Kneedler wrote that the Biden’s Justice Department “reconsidered” the facts of the case and now opposes Trump’s position.
The switch comes after Trump, along with Texas and a collection of Republican-led states, argued in November that Obamacare was unconstitutional because its individual mandate, a tax which propped up the law’s constitutionality in past cases, was wiped out by Congress in 2017. They argued that the individual mandate was “inseverable” from the rest of the act and that because of that fact, all of Obamacare must fall.
Kneedler wrote that the Biden Justice Department, on the other hand, believes the federal government now believes that setting the mandate at zero does not make the act unconstitutional.
“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,” Kneedler wrote.
Acting Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar recused herself from the case. Prelogar last year filed an amicus brief signed by 47 Democratic senators supporting the act’s constitutionality.
Kneedler’s letter is the latest in a series of Supreme Court shakeups prompted by the new administration. Biden in early February convinced the court to delist two Trump-era immigration cases after Biden signed executive orders rolling back federal funding for the Mexican border wall and dropping Trump’s “remain in Mexico” policy.
This latest move comes on the heels of several Biden orders shoring up the Affordable Care Act. The president has long been a vocal supporter of Obamacare, which is widely seen as its namesake’s signature achievement.
Since the case has already been argued, the federal government’s new position does not suspend its proceedings, as with other Biden switches. It does, however, give the justices a new piece of material to consider before they deliver their decision in the spring.
The court typically does not look kindly on incoming administrations changing federal positions on active cases. Justice Elena Kagan, as Obama’s first Solicitor General, famously maintaining the outgoing Bush Justice Department’s support of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — even as Obama opposed it.
Kagan in 2018 told a legal forum that the court prefers continuity between Justice Departments.
“I think changing positions is a really big deal that people should hesitate a long time over,” she said.
But with this case, many legal experts argued that a changed Biden position would actually be a return to the government’s longstanding position on Obamacare.
“You don’t want to change positions from the past administration,” said Obama legal adviser Neal Katyal at a recent debate on the case. “But if you’ve got some outlier position, you’re almost really compelled to as an institutionalist.”
During the cases’ arguments, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh showed skepticism to the Trump administration’s arguments, leading many to predict that the court will uphold Obamacare.
Author: Nicholas Rowan
Source: Washington Examiner: Biden kills federal government’s Supreme Court challenge to Obamacare