TN joins lawsuit asking federal court to declare ACA unconstitutional

Published 3:53 pm Tuesday, February 27, 2018

On Monday Tennessee joined a coalition of 20 states asking a federal court to declare the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional following changes to the nation’s tax law made in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act signed into law by the President in December.

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III joined the lawsuit on behalf of the state. In addition to Tennessee, the coalition includes Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

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The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Forth Worth Division. The suit lists as defendants the United States of America, U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar in his official capacity, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, and Acting Commissioner of Internal Revenue David Kautter in his official capacity.

In announcing the lawsuit, Slatery said in a previous legal challenge of the ACA the U.S. Supreme Court narrowly upheld the core provision of the ACA — the individual mandate requiring the purchase of health insurance — because the Court viewed the ACA’s penalty for not complying with the mandate as a “tax.”

“But now, with the recent passage of its tax reform package — the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 — Congress has repealed this tax while leaving the mandate in place,” Slatery said. “Since the Supreme Court has already held that Congress has no authority to impose the individual mandate on Americans without invoking its taxing authority, the repeal of the tax renders the individual mandate unconstitutional. And, since the ACA is dependent on the individual mandate, the ACA itself is now unconstitutional.”

The lawsuit cites several prior rulings issued by the U.S. Supreme Court in stating its claim the ACA is now unconstitutional following the removal of the “tax” levied against those who do not purchase health insurance. The suit alleges the ACA as amended “forces an unconstitutional and irrational regime” onto the states and their citizens.

In the 2012 case of NFIB v. Sebelius, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the federal government had no authority to impose a mandate on health insurance under the Commerce Clause, but did have the authority to impose it through the federal government’s power of taxation. In reaching that decision, the majority concluded the provision at issue raised “at least some revenue for the government” and cited the ruling issued in U.S. V. Kahriger (1953) defining “the essential feature of any tax” to be the raising “of at least some revenue.”

With the changes to the tax code which eliminated the “tax” penalty for not purchasing insurance, the lawsuit alleges the legal conditions which kept the individual mandate constitutional no longer exist.

“Because the tax penalty provision in the ACA no longer raises any revenue, the Supreme Court’s avoidance reading is no longer possible,” the lawsuit alleges. “Because the tax penalty raises $0, it lacks ‘the essential feature of any tax,’ and the avoidance interpretation adopted in NFIB to save the individual mandate from its unconstitutionality is no longer ‘fairly possible.’ Following the enactment of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, the country is left with an individual mandate to buy health insurance that lacks any constitutional basis.”

U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, M.D., who serves the 1st Congressional District of Tennessee, said he is interested in seeing how this lawsuit progresses through the federal courts.

“It is a fascinating case they are bringing to the court,” Roe said. “I think the court will have to look at it.”

“I believe this time it will be 5-4 the other way,” he continued. “The only question is how (Chief Justice John) Roberts will vote.”

Roe said he has not yet had time to look at the lawsuit in depth, but from what he has seen of the legal challenge he believes Roberts will vote in favor of striking down the ACA.

“If that happens, then I think it’s incumbent on us in Congress to find a way we can expand coverage and keep costs down,” Roe said.

In voicing his support for the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, Roe praised the legislation’s removal of the tax penalty on those who did not purchase insurance. “It’s wrong when you are forcing people to buy something they can’t afford and then fine them if they don’t buy it,” Roe said on Tuesday. “I’ve said that all along.”

Following the passage of the Act by both houses of Congress, President Donald Trump held a special celebration at the White House where he praised the legislators for their work to pass the provisions of the bill.

“We essentially repealed Obamacare, because we removed the individual mandate,” Trump said during his celebratory speech in December 2017.