Judges wary of Affordable Care Act mandate

Anti-Affordable Care Act protesters in 2012. Photo: Brooks Kraft LLC/Corbis via Getty Images

A federal appeals court seemed likely on Tuesday to strike down what remains of the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate, but sent more mixed signals about its willingness to throw out the rest of the health care law along with it.

Why it matters: If a ruling striking down ACA comes to pass — like the one a lower court handed down last year — it would throw some 20 million people off their coverage, create ripple effects through almost every facet of the health care system and ignite an enormous political firestorm.

The case that the mandate itself is constitutional didn’t get much traction Tuesday before a panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. But the panel’s two Republican appointees wrestled with how to approach the rest of the law — whether to throw it all out, or to send the question back to a lower court.

How it works: The Affordable Care Act requires most Americans to have health insurance and pay a tax penalty if they don't.

  • In 2012, the Supreme Court said the mandate alone would exceed Congress' power, but that the penalty for being uninsured is OK.
  • The 2017 tax law zeroed out the penalty for being uninsured — the part the Supreme Court upheld. But the mandate to buy insurance is still on the books.
  • The Trump administration say that means the mandate has effectively become unconstitutional since the court upheld it. And, they argue, the courts should throw out the entire law as a result.

What's next

The ACA's fate will again be argued in court

Protestors rallying against repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act in 2017. Photo: Albin Lohr-Jones/Pacific Press/LightRocket/Getty Images

Republican attorneys general and the Trump administration will make their case before the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Tuesday for striking down the entire Affordable Care Act.

Why it matters: If all of this ends with the Affordable Care Act being struck down, it'll kick millions of people off their coverage, upend the health care system and force the political debate about health care back into 2010-level intensity.

Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has died

Former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court John Paul Stevens, sitting for a portrait in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in May. Photo: Scott McIntyre/for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has died, ABC News first reported Tuesday. He was 99.

"Retired Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, John Paul Stevens, died this evening at Holy Cross Hospital in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, of complications following a stroke he suffered on July 15. He passed away peacefully with his daughters by his side."
— Supreme Court statement

How the Supreme Court has stirred the populist pot

Anti-abortion protest, 2016. Drew Angerer/Getty

In an age of profound mistrust, few matters stir greater hope, satisfaction and fury among Americans than the Supreme Court and its often-decisive role as the last word across a vast number of divisive issues.

What's happening: Scholars, analysts and observers are struggling to understand the sudden populist challenge to the status quo. So it is odd that little attention has been paid to the court as a primary force in the country's often-apoplectic anger.

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