Judy, a three-judge panel of a federal appeals court in New Orleans heard about 90 minutes of oral arguments today in this case, with enormous stakes for millions of Americans.
They argued that because the individual mandate, the ACA tenet that required Americans to either purchase health insurance or pay a fine, was repealed by the 2017 tax overhaul, the law was no longer constitutional.
A federal appeals court panel appeared sympathetic on Tuesday to Republican efforts to overturn Obamacare, expressing skepticism to Democratic calls to overturn the ruling of a Texas judge who found the landmark US healthcare reform law unconstitutional. If the appeals court upholds the ruling, 20 million people are at risk of losing insurance coverage and people with pre-existing would have their protections eliminated.
The judges hearing the arguments were 5th Circuit Judges Carolyn Dineen King, Jennifer Walker Elrod and Kurt Engelhardt.
Lawyers from the Trump administration and a group of Republican states squared off against attorneys from a coalition of Democratic states and the House of Representatives. At first, the Trump administration said some of the law should remain.
Congress set the stage for this challenge in the tax bill that President Trump signed into law in 2017.
Engelhardt, the Trump appointee, primarily grilled attorneys representing California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, a score of other Democratic-led states andthe Democratic House.
Among the arguments by the law's supporters: Those who filed suit have no case because they aren't harmed by a penalty that doesn't exist; the reduction of the tax penalty to zero could be read as a suspension of the tax, but the tax's legal structure still exists; and even if the individual mandate is now unconstitutional, that does not affect the rest of the law known as the Affordable Care Act. But Chief Justice John Roberts, joining four liberal justices, said Congress did have the power to impose a tax on those without insurance.
The Justice Department initially argued the mandate was unconstitutional but most of Obamacare could be severed from it. He has said Congress won't vote on it until after next year's presidential election.
But Douglas Letter, an attorney for the U.S. House of Representatives, argued that the elimination of the tax penalty doesn't undermine the law's constitutionality. And he pointedly suggested that the courts shouldn't have to work out what parts of the law should or shouldn't survive. Most insurance markets continue to function, and millions of poor Americans are still getting coverage through an expansion of Medicaid, also made possible by the law.
The Affordable Care Act's broad impact on the health care system is central to the arguments of both sides - with Texas saying the passage of the law has forced it to spend more money, and California charging that the law's nullification would cost it money.
A key portion of the federal Affordable Care Act that gives protection to people with pre-existing conditions will soon be enshrined in New Hampshire state law. This spring, the administration changed its position mid-appeal, with the Justice Department telling the 5th Circuit it now agrees with the district court that the entire law is invalid. The Democratic Senate Campaign Committee launched attack ads, accusing vulnerable Republicans of not working hard enough to protect patients with preexisting medical conditions.
"If the right wing wins the lawsuit, families from one end of America to the other will lose", Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said from the Capitol steps, where Democrats held photos of Americans who've gained coverage or marketplace protections from Obamacare.