A federal court on Wednesday added a new and potentially disruptive wrinkle to the ongoing lawsuit that seeks to overturn the Affordable Care Act.
The suit, initiated last year by a group of Republican governors and state attorneys general, claims that the ACA became invalid once Congress effectively eliminated its mandate requiring people to buy health insurance. A U.S. district court judge in Texas ruled in the plaintiffs’ favor in December, declaring the ACA unconstitutional, and the Trump administration in March announced that it supported the lawsuit – leaving only House Democrats and more than a dozen blue state attorneys general led by California to appeal the ruling.
Now an appeals court is questioning whether the Democratic lawmakers are legitimate participants in the case. Ahead of a July 9 hearing, a Fifth Circuit panel asked the parties appealing the case to defend their standing to intervene and whether their intervention has been timely. The filing issued Wednesday also raised the question of whether there is a legitimate “live case or controversy” at stake, and what would happen if it were determined that no party had legal standing to appeal the ruling.
What’s next: The request raises the possibility that the appeal of the ruling in Texas could be tossed out on procedural grounds, leaving the judge’s declaration that the ACA is unconstitutional in place and potentially causing chaos in the U.S. health care system. “The odds that the Fifth Circuit does something nasty to the health-reform law have gone up,” University of Michigan law professor Nicholas Bagley said. But that outcome is still unlikely, most legal experts say, and the case is expected ultimately to end up in the Supreme Court.