U.S. Supreme Court justices appear unlikely to throw out Obamacare

By Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Supreme Court justices on Tuesday signaled they are unlikely to strike down the Obamacare healthcare law in a legal challenge brought by Texas and 17 other Republican-governed states and joined by President Donald Trump’s administration.

Chief Justice John Roberts and fellow conservative Brett Kavanaugh indicated skepticism during two hours of arguments in the case toward the stance by the Republican challengers that the entire law must fall if a single key provision, called the individual mandate, is deemed unconstitutional.

That provision originally required people to obtain insurance or pay a financial penalty. Trump signed a law in 2017 that erased the penalty, a change that Republicans then argued eliminated the constitutional justification for the provision as permissible under the power of Congress to levy taxes.

Roberts asked questions suggesting that because Congress did not repeal the entire law, formally known as the Affordable Care Act (ACA), when it eliminated the penalty, all of Obamacare should not be invalidated due to this one change.

If Roberts and Kavanaugh join the court’s three liberals in the court’s eventual ruling due by the end of June, the bulk of Obamacare would survive.

“It’s hard for you to argue that Congress intended the entire act to fall if the mandate was struck down,” said Roberts, who authored 2012 and 2015 rulings that upheld Obamacare in previous Republican legal challenges.

The case represents the latest Republican legal attack on the 2010 law, Democratic former President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement. Republicans also have failed numerous times to repeal Obamacare in Congress, though Trump’s administration has taken steps to hobble the law.

The justices heard arguments by teleconference in an appeal by a coalition of 20 states including Democratic-governed California and New York and the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives hoping to preserve Obamacare. The court, with three Trump appointees including Kavanaugh, has a 6-3 conservative majority.

After the arguments, President-elect Joe Biden, who served as Obama’s vice president, criticized the “right-wing ideologues” who pursued the “simply cruel and needlessly divisive” litigation.

“This argument will determine whether (the) healthcare coverage of more than 20 million Americans who acquired it under the Affordable Care Act will be ripped away in the middle of the nation’s worst pandemic in a century,” Biden told reporters in Delaware.

Citing a “moral obligation to ensure that here in America healthcare is a right for all and not a privilege for a few,” Biden promised to start building on the Affordable Care Act immediately after succeeding Trump on Jan. 20.

Obamacare expanded public healthcare programs and created marketplaces for private insurance. Without Obamacare, Biden noted, insurers could once again refuse to cover people with any pre-existing medical conditions such as diabetes, cancer, asthma or complications from COVID-19.

Roberts and Kavanaugh appeared to agree that the mandate to obtain insurance can be separated from the rest of the law.

“We ask ourselves whether Congress would want the rest of the law to survive if an unconstitutional provision were severed,” Roberts said.

The fact that Congress in 2017 left the rest of the law intact “seems to be compelling evidence,” Roberts added.

Kavanaugh added that “this is a fairly straightforward case for severability under our precedents, meaning that we would excise the mandate and leave the rest of the act in place.”

LEGAL STANDING

The justices – conservatives and liberals alike – raised questions over whether Texas and the other challengers had the proper legal standing to bring the case, worrying about similar scenarios in which someone might be able to sue over some other government mandate when no penalty exists.

Roberts said such a stance “expands standing dramatically” by enabling people to challenge a whole host of laws without experiencing direct harm.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett, Trump’s most recent appointee, asked skeptical questions about legal standing. Democrats, ahead of Barrett’s Senate confirmation last month, focused their opposition to her appointment on the Obamacare case, fearing she would vote to strike down the law. Her questions did not indicate she would.

Trump’s third appointee, Justice Neil Gorsuch, asked probing questions on standing, though he sounded skeptical about the individual mandate’s constitutionality.

The 2012 ruling authored by Roberts defined the individual mandate’s financial penalty as a tax, thus finding the law permissible under the Constitution’s provision empowering Congress to levy taxes.

The 2017 Republican-backed change eliminating the penalty meant the individual mandate could no longer be interpreted as a tax provision and was therefore unconstitutional, the Republican challengers argued in their lawsuit filed in 2018.

Texas-based U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor in 2018 ruled that Obamacare was unconstitutional as currently structured following the elimination of the penalty.

The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year also found the mandate unconstitutional but stopped short of striking down Obamacare. The Democratic-led states and House then appealed to the Supreme Court.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham

Conservative U.S. Supreme Court prepares to hear Obamacare challenge

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday is set to hear arguments in a bid by Republican-governed states backed by President Donald Trump’s administration to strike down the Obamacare healthcare law, even as Joe Biden prepares to replace Trump in January.

Key priorities set by the Democratic president-elect included expanding healthcare access and buttressing Obamacare, the 2010 law formally called the Affordable Care Act that Republicans for years have sought to invalidate. The law was the signature domestic policy achievement of former President Barack Obama, under whom Biden served as vice president.

Although the court now has a 6-3 conservative majority bolstered by the Senate confirmation last month of Trump’s third appointee, Amy Coney Barrett, most legal experts think it would stop short of a seismic ruling striking down the law. The Supreme Court in 2012 and 2015 fended off previous Republican challenges to Obamacare.

Biden and other Democrats have criticized Republican efforts to strike down the law in the midst of a deadly coronavirus pandemic.

If Obamacare were to be struck down, up to 20 million Americans could lose their medical insurance and insurers could once again refuse to cover people with pre-existing medical conditions. Obamacare expanded public healthcare programs and created marketplaces for private insurance.

“Abolishing the Affordable Care Act would be deeply damaging to the American health care system and public health,” Georges Benjamin, executive director of the nonprofit American Public Health Association, said in a statement.

The justices will hear an expanded 80-minute oral argument by teleconference due to the pandemic.

The impetus for the Supreme Court case was a 2018 ruling by a federal judge in Texas that Obamacare as currently structured in light of a key Republican-backed change made by Congress violates the U.S. Constitution and is invalid in its entirety.

The justices in March agreed to hear an appeal filed by a coalition of Democratic-led states and the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives defending Obamacare.

They asked the justices to overturn a ruling by the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that declared that the law’s “individual mandate” that required people to obtain health insurance ran afoul of the Constitution. Republican states led by Texas and backed by Trump’s administration have asked the justices to throw out the law.

If the individual mandate is struck down “then it necessarily follows that the rest of the ACA must also fall,” Trump administration’s lawyers argued in court papers.

The Supreme Court in 2012 upheld most Obamacare provisions including the individual mandate, which required people to obtain insurance or pay a financial penalty. The court defined this penalty as a tax and thus found the law permissible under the Constitution’s provision empowering Congress to levy taxes.

In 2017, Trump signed a Republican-backed law tax that eliminated the financial penalty under the individual mandate, which gave rise to the Republican lawsuit. The tax law meant the individual mandate could no longer be interpreted as a tax provision and was therefore unlawful, the Republican challengers argued.

Democrats made the Republican threat to Obamacare a central feature of their opposition to Barrett’s confirmation to replace the late liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Barrett, when she was a law professor, previously indicated she backed the challengers in the two previous Obamacare cases that reached the Supreme Court.

In recent cases with conservative justices in the majority, the court has declined to strike down an entire statute just because one part was unlawful.

“Constitutional litigation is not a game of gotcha against Congress, where litigants can ride a discrete constitutional flaw in a statute to take down the whole, otherwise constitutional statute,” conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh, another Trump appointee, wrote in a ruling earlier this year.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

Trump’s Supreme Court pick lauded as ‘unashamedly pro-life’ in hearing’s third day

By Lawrence Hurley, Patricia Zengerle and Andrew Chung

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett faced fresh questioning at her Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday, with the panel’s Republican chairman lauding her as “unashamedly pro-life” even as Democrats worry that she could vote to overturn the 1973 ruling legalizing abortion nationwide.

Barrett, a conservative federal appellate judge who is the Republican president’s third selection for a lifetime job on the top U.S. judicial body, was in the third day of her four-day Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing.

“This is history being made folks,” Senator Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the panel, said. “This is the first time in American history that we’ve nominated a woman who is unashamedly pro-life and embraces her faith without apology, and she’s going to the court. A seat at the table is waiting for you.”

“It will be a great signal to all young women who share your view of the world,” Graham added.

Under questioning by Graham, Barrett reiterated her comments from Tuesday that the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that recognized a woman’s constitutional right to abortion was not a “super-precedent” that could never potentially be overturned.

Barrett, a devout Catholic and a favorite of religious conservatives, told the committee on Tuesday she could set aside her religious beliefs in making judicial decisions.

Barrett would be the fifth woman to serve on the court and the second Republican appointee.

During 11 hours of questioning on Tuesday, she sidestepped questions on contentious social issues and told the committee she had no agenda on issues such as the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare. Democrats say Barrett’s confirmation would threaten healthcare for millions of Americans and they have said the Senate should not consider filling the vacancy until after the presidential election.

Barrett, 48, would tilt the court even further to the right, giving conservative justices a 6-3 majority. Republicans have a 53-47 Senate majority, making Barrett’s confirmation a virtual certainty.

Barrett has declined to say whether she would recuse herself from the major Obamacare case to be argued on Nov. 10, in which Trump and Republican-led states are seeking to invalidate the law. She said the case centers on a different legal issue than two previous Supreme Court rulings that upheld Obamacare that she has criticized.

In response to Democratic suggestions that she would vote to strike the entire law down if one part is found to be unlawful, Barrett on Wednesday told Graham that when judges address the legal question raised in the case, the “presumption” is that Congress did not intend the whole statute to fall.

Barrett agreed with Graham that if a statute can be saved, it is a judge’s duty to do so. Barrett indicated she was in favor of a broad reading of the “severability doctrine” in which courts assume that when one provision of a law is unlawful, Congress would want the rest of the statute to remain in place.

“I think insofar as it tries to effectuate what Congress would have wanted, it’s the court and Congress working hand in hand,” Barrett said of the doctrine.

Barrett on Tuesday also refused to say whether the 2015 ruling legalizing gay marriage nationwide was wrongly decided. Barrett deflected Democrats’ questions about whether she would participate in any dispute resulting from the Nov. 3 presidential election, promising only to follow rules giving justices the final say on recusal.

Trump has urged the Senate, controlled by his fellow Republicans, to confirm Barrett before Election Day. Trump has said he expects the Supreme Court to decide the election’s outcome as he faces Democratic challenger Joe Biden.

The hearing is scheduled to end on Thursday with testimony from outside witnesses, with Republicans already preparing for committee vote next week.

Trump nominated Barrett to a lifetime post on the court on Sept. 26 to replace the late liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The four-day confirmation hearing is a key step before a full Senate vote due by the end of October on Barrett’s confirmation.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung in New York and Lawrence Hurley and Patricia Zengerle in Washington; Editing by Will Dunham)

Trump’s Supreme Court nominee says her religious views would not guide decisions

By Lawrence Hurley, Patricia Zengerle and Andrew Chung

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett on Tuesday began the first of two days of direct questioning from U.S. senators, telling senators that her religious views would not affect her decisions on the bench.

The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing presents Barrett with a chance to respond to Democratic lawmakers who have been unified in opposing her primarily on what they say would be her role in undermining the Obamacare healthcare law and its protection for patients with pre-existing conditions.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, the committee’s chairman, opened the questioning by asking her about her conservative legal philosophy known as originalism, in which laws and the Constitution are interpreted based on the meaning they had at the time they were enacted.

“That meaning doesn’t change over time and it’s not for me to update it or infuse my own policy views into it,” Barrett said.

Graham asked Barrett, a devout Catholic and a favorite of religious conservatives, whether she could set aside her religious beliefs in making decisions as a justice.

“I can,” Barrett said.

Barrett called the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, for whom she served as a clerk two decades ago, as her mentor, but said she would not always rule the same way as him.

“You would not be getting Justice Scalia, you would be getting Justice Barrett. That is so because originalists don’t always agree,” she said.

Graham will be followed by Senator Dianne Feinstein, the panel’s top Democrat. Barrett sat alone at a table facing the senators.

Barrett was nominated to a lifetime post on the court on Sept. 26 by Trump to replace the late liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Barrett could be on the Supreme Court in time for the Nov. 10 arguments in a case in which Trump and Republican-led states are seeking to invalidate the 2010 Affordable Care Act, Democratic former President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement that has enabled millions of Americans to obtain medical coverage.

Barrett has criticized a 2012 Supreme Court ruling authored by conservative Chief Justice John Roberts that upheld the law, popularly known as Obamacare.

Republicans have a 53-47 Senate majority, leaving Democrats with little to no chance of blocking Barrett’s confirmation.

If confirmed, Barrett, 48, would tilt the Supreme Court further to the right and give conservative justices a 6-3 majority, making even the unexpected victories on which liberals have prevailed in recent years, including abortion and gay rights, rarer still. She is Trump’s third Supreme Court appointment.

Trump’s nomination of Barrett came late in an election cycle when Republican control of both the White House and Senate is at stake. The confirmation hearing format has changed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the public excluded and some senators participating remotely.

Democrats, including vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris, on the first day of the hearing zeroed in on the fate of Obamacare, as Republicans push to confirm Barrett before the Nov. 3 presidential election between Trump and Democrat Joe Biden.

The hearing is a key step before a full Senate vote by the end of October on Barrett’s confirmation to a lifetime job on the court.

Republicans have sought to portray Democrats as attacking Barrett, a devout Roman Catholic, on religious grounds, although the Democrats have so far steered clear of doing so.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung in New York and Lawrence Hurley and Patricia Zengerle in Washington; Editing by Scott Malone and Peter Cooney)

Harris, fellow Democrats target Trump Supreme Court nominee on Obamacare

By Lawrence Hurley and Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democratic senators including vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris on Monday painted President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett as a threat to the Obamacare healthcare law during a deadly pandemic and denounced the Republican drive to approve her before the Nov. 3 U.S. election.

As the Senate Judiciary Committee began its four-day confirmation hearing for Barrett, Democrats voiced their strong opposition to the nomination even though they have little hope of derailing her nomination in the Republican-led Senate.

Barrett, a conservative appellate court judge nominated to replace the late liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, sat at a table facing the senators wearing a black face mask amid the pandemic as senators made opening statements. Barrett removed the mask when she was sworn in and delivered her own opening statement.

“I believe Americans of all backgrounds deserve an independent Supreme Court that interprets our Constitution and laws as they are written,” Barrett said, reading from prepared remarks that had been made public on Sunday, with her husband and seven children sitting behind her.

Barrett’s confirmation would give the court a 6-3 conservative majority that could lead to rulings rolling back abortion rights, expanding religious and gun rights, and upholding voting restrictions, among other issues.

But it was the fate of the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA), Democratic former President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement that has enabled millions of Americans to obtain medical coverage, that was the focus of Harris and her fellow Democrats. Barrett has criticized a 2012 Supreme Court ruling authored by conservative Chief Justice John Roberts that upheld Obamacare.

Harris, the running mate of Trump’s Democratic election opponent Joe Biden, called the confirmation process so near the election “illegitimate.”

“I do believe this hearing is a clear attempt to jam through a Supreme Court nominee who will take away healthcare from millions of people during a deadly pandemic that has already killed more than 214,000 Americans,” Harris said, speaking via a video link.

“A clear majority of Americans want whomever wins the election to fill this seat and my Republican colleagues know that. Yet they are deliberately defying the will of the people in their attempt to roll back the rights and protections provided under the Affordable Care Act,” Harris said.

Barrett could be on the Supreme Court in time to participate in a case due to be argued on Nov. 10 in which Trump and Republican-led states are seeking to invalidate Obamacare.

Barrett will face marathon questioning from senators on Tuesday and Wednesday. The hearing is a key step before a full Senate vote by the end of October on her confirmation to a lifetime job on the court. Republicans have a 53-47 Senate majority so Barrett’s confirmation seems almost certain.

A pivotal Obamacare provision that would be thrown out if the court strikes the law down bars insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions. In the hearing room, Democrats displayed posters of patients who could lose their medical coverage if Obamacare is invalidated, with senators recounting their individual stories.

Repeated Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare in Congress have fallen short, and Republicans have taken the effort to the courts.

Republican Senator Ted Cruz said the Democratic focus on healthcare and other policy issues showed they were not contesting Barrett’s qualifications to serve as a justice.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who chairs the committee, opened the hearing by saying it would be “a long contentious week” but implored senators to make the proceedings respectful.

“Let’s remember, the world is watching,” Graham added.

“This is probably not about persuading each other, unless something really dramatic happens. All Republicans will vote yes and all Democrats will vote no,” Graham said.

‘MAD RUSH’

Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy condemned the Republican “mad rush” to fill the vacancy.

“They see the ability to take the courts from being independent to making them instead an arm of the far right and the Republican Party, with the potential to accomplish in courts what they have failed to accomplish by votes in the halls of Congress. And at the top of the hit list is the Affordable Care Act,” Leahy said.

Graham defended the Republican approach even while acknowledging that four years earlier they had refused to act on Obama’s nominee to fill a Supreme Court vacancy because it was an election year, and that no Supreme Court nominee had a confirmation process so close to an election.

The Senate’s Republican leaders rejected Democratic pleas to delay the hearing over COVID-19 concerns.

Due to the pandemic, Harris and some other senators participated remotely. Republican Senator Mike Lee attended in person nine days after revealing he head tested positive for the coronavirus, arriving wearing a light-blue surgical mask. He took off the mask while giving his opening statement.

Barrett is a devout Catholic who has expressed opposition to abortion. Christian conservative activists long have hoped for the court to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.

Democratic Senator Cory Booker said that “Senate Republicans have found a nominee in Judge Barrett who they know will do what they couldn’t do – subvert the will of the American people and overturn Roe v. Wade.”

Republicans sought to portray the Democrats as attacking Barrett on religious grounds, though the Democrats steered clear of doing so. Speaking to reporters in Delaware, Biden said Barrett’s Catholic faith should not be considered during the confirmation process. Biden was the first Catholic U.S. vice president.

“This nominee said she wants to get rid of the Affordable Care Act. The president wants to get rid of the Affordable Care Act,” Biden said. “Let’s keep our eye on the ball.”

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley, Andrew Chung and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Will Dunham)

With two cases, shorthanded U.S. Supreme Court opens new term amid drama

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court returned to work on Monday for the first time since liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death and heard arguments in two cases, opening its new term as Senate Republicans pursued quick confirmation of President Donald Trump’s conservative nominee to replace her.

At least at the outset of the term, the cases are being argued as they were at the end of the last term by teleconference because of the coronavirus pandemic.

With eight justices rather than the usual nine, the court started a term due to run through next June that includes several major cases including one that will decide the fate of the Obamacare healthcare law. Its last term ended in July.

Before the first argument began, Chief Justice John Roberts paid tribute to Ginsburg, calling her a “dear friend and treasured colleague” and sent “our condolences to her children, extended family and countless admirers.” Roberts said that a memorial service will at some point be held in the courtroom.

Ginsburg died on Sept. 18 at age 87. Trump on Sept. 26 nominated federal appeals court judge Amy Coney Barrett to replace her, and asked the Republican-led Senate to confirm her by the Nov. 3 U.S. election. If confirmed, Barrett would give the court a 6-3 conservative majority.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reiterated on Saturday that Barrett’s confirmation hearings, due to be held next week, will proceed as planned even though two Republicans on the Judiciary Committee had contracted the coronavirus. Trump himself remained hospitalized with COVID-19 on Monday.

Trump has said he wants Barrett to be confirmed before Election Day so she could cast a decisive vote in any election-related dispute, potentially in his favor. He has said he expects the Supreme Court to decide the outcome of the election, though it has done so only once – the disputed 2000 contest ultimately awarded to Republican George W. Bush.

The first oral argument of the term centered on a system used by the state of Delaware that requires some of its courts to be ideologically balanced. The justices are weighing the state’s appeal defending its law, which requires that no more than half of the judges on certain courts be affiliated with one particular political party. It also requires that Delaware judges be affiliated with one of the two major political parties in the state.

During the argument, some of the justices questioned whether challenger James Adams, who has said he wants to serve as a judge, had legal standing to bring his claim, in part because he never formally applied. Roberts said that if someone approached him about a job as a clerk but never applied, “I really wouldn’t know what to make of it.”

The second case argued before the justices was a dispute between Texas and New Mexico over rights to the waters of the Pecos River that runs through both states.

On Wednesday, the justices weigh a multibillion-dollar software copyright dispute between Alphabet Inc’s Google and Oracle Corp. The case involves Oracle’s accusation that Google infringed its software copyrights to build the Android operating system used in smartphones.

Two big cases are scheduled for November.

On Nov. 10, a week after Election Day, the court is due to hear arguments in a case in which a group of Democratic-led states including California and New York are striving to preserve the 2010 Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. Republican-led states and Trump’s administration are waging a court battle to strike down Obamacare.

The court hears another major case on Nov. 4 concerning the scope of religious-rights exemptions to certain federal laws. The dispute arose from Philadelphia’s decision to bar a local Roman Catholic entity from participating in the Democratic-governed city’s foster-care program because the organization prohibits same-sex couples from serving as foster parents.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

U.S. Supreme Court wrestles with Obamacare contraception case

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Supreme Court justices grappled on Wednesday with whether President Donald Trump’s administration went too far in allowing employers to obtain broad religious and moral exemptions from an Obamacare requirement that health insurance that they provide employees covers women’s birth control.

At issue is a challenge by the states of Pennsylvania and New Jersey to the administration’s 2018 rule that permits broad religious and moral exemptions to the contraception mandate of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare, and expands accommodations already allowed.

The justices held their third day of arguments by teleconference of the week, a new format prompted by the coronavirus pandemic. Liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg took part a day after being hospitalized to undergo treatment for a benign gall bladder condition.

Conservative Chief Justice John Roberts, a potential pivotal vote, appeared frustrated that the long-running litigation, a version of which previously reached the Supreme Court in 2016, has not led to a compromise.

“Is it really the case that there is no way to resolve those differences?” Roberts asked.

Roberts wondered if the administration’s approach was too broad by providing exemptions even to entities that had not complained about the adequacy of previous accommodations devised under Trump’s Democratic predecessor Barack Obama.

Liberal Justices Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer appeared to favor a similar approach.

“I don’t understand why this can’t be worked out,” Breyer said.

The contraceptive mandate under the law, which was signed by Obama in 2010 and has faced Republican efforts to repeal it ever since, requires that employer-provided health insurance include coverage for birth control with no co-payment. Previously, many employer-provided insurance policies did not offer this coverage.

Ginsburg, at 87 the court’s oldest member, participated in the argument from Baltimore after being hospitalized for non-surgical treatment for an infection arising from a gallstone in her cystic duct.

‘NO HASSLE’

Sometimes sounding hesitant and at other times sounding firm, Ginsburg asked three rounds of questions starting with a query to Solicitor General Noel Francisco, who was arguing for the administration. Ginsburg told Francisco that Trump’s administration had “tossed entirely to the wind what Congress considered to be essential, that women be provided this service, with no hassle and no cost to them.”

The administration has asked the court, which has a 5-4 conservative majority, to reverse a nationwide injunction issued by a lower court blocking the rule.

Both of Trump’s appointees, conservative Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, asked questions indicating sympathy toward the administration’s view that it has broad leeway under Obamacare to decide the scope of exemptions.

Liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s questions, like those posed by Ginsburg, indicated they are leaning toward the states.

The administration is joined in the litigation by the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Roman Catholic order of nuns that is one of the groups seeking an exemption for its employees. Under a separate court ruling, the group already has an exemption to the mandate.

Conservative Justice Clarence Thomas, who ordinarily remains silent during arguments, again asked questions as he has done each day this week under the new format.

Rules implemented under Obama exempted religious entities from the mandate and a further accommodation was created for religiously affiliated nonprofit employers, which some groups including the Little Sisters of the Poor objected to as not going far enough.

The blocked Trump rule would allow any nonprofit or for-profit employer, including publicly traded companies, to seek an exemption on religious grounds. A moral objection can be made by nonprofits and companies that are not publicly traded. The Trump administration exemption also would be available for religiously affiliated universities that provide health insurance to students.

The legal question is whether Trump’s administration had the legal authority to expand the exemption under both the Obamacare law itself and another federal law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which allows people to press religious claims against the federal government.

The justices addressed the question of religious accommodations to the Obamacare contraception mandate once before. In 2016, they sidestepped a decision on previous rules issued under Obama, sending the dispute back to lower courts.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham)

U.S. Supreme Court agrees to hear Democratic bid to save Obamacare

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear a politically explosive case on whether Obamacare is lawful, taking up a bid by 20 Democratic-led states to save the landmark healthcare law.

The impetus for the Supreme Court case was a 2018 ruling by a federal judge in Texas that Obamacare as currently structured in light of a key Republican-backed change made by Congress violates the U.S. Constitution and is invalid in its entirety. The ruling came in a legal challenge to the law by Texas and 17 other conservative states backed by President Donald Trump’s administration.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

Democrats ask U.S. Supreme Court to save Obamacare

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives and 20 Democratic-led states asked the Supreme Court on Friday to declare that the landmark Obamacare healthcare law does not violate the U.S. Constitution as lower courts have found in a lawsuit brought by Republican-led states.

The House and states including New York and California want the Supreme Court to heard their appeal of a Dec. 18 ruling by the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the law’s “individual mandate” that required people to obtain health insurance ran afoul of the Constitution.

The petitions asked the Supreme Court to hear the case quickly and issue a definitive ruling by the end of June.

Texas and 17 other conservative states – backed by President Donald Trump’s administration – filed a lawsuit challenging the law, which was signed by Democratic former President Barack Obama in 2010 over strenuous Republican opposition. A district court judge in Texas ruled in 2018 that the entire law was unconstitutional.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

Maryland judge to weigh Obamacare case

FILE PHOTO: A sign on an insurance store advertises Obamacare in San Ysidro, San Diego, California, U.S., October 26, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

By Sarah N. Lynch

(Reuters) – Days after a judge in Texas declared that the Obamacare healthcare law is unconstitutional, Maryland’s Democratic attorney general on Wednesday will pursue his request that another judge rule the opposite way.

The lawsuit brought by Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh also seeks to challenge President Donald Trump’s appointment of Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general, another bone of partisan contention.

Frosh is asking U.S. District Judge Ellen Hollander in Baltimore to declare that the 2010 health law, known as the Affordable Care Act, is lawful in a bid to counter attempts by the Trump administration to undermine it.

Hollander will weigh the Whitaker claim along with the government’s motion to dismiss the case on the grounds that Maryland does not have legal standing to bring the case.

On Friday, a judge in Texas ruled that the entire healthcare law was unconstitutional following revisions to the tax code by the Republican-controlled Congress last year, which removed the tax penalty for failing to buy health insurance. Trump, who has worked for years to undermine Obamacare, on Twitter called the Texas judge’s decision “a great ruling for our country.”

The Texas judge ruled in favor of 20 states, including Texas.

The original lawsuit by the 20 states prompted Maryland to sue the federal government over then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ refusal to defend the portions of the Obamacare law being challenged in Texas.

Trump forced Sessions out of office in early November and named Whitaker to replace him as acting attorney general.

In response to that, Maryland asked Judge Hollander to issue an injunction barring Whitaker from serving, saying his appointment violated both the Constitution and a federal law that governs the line of succession at the Justice Department.

Then on Dec. 7, Trump nominated William Barr to become attorney general on a permanent basis. He would replace Whitaker, pending Senate review, likely in early 2019.

Maryland has asked Hollander to issue a declaratory judgment upholding Obamacare’s constitutionality.

If Hollander rules on whether Obamacare is constitutional, her decision could potentially be at odds with the decision in Texas. That could create a conflict among lower courts of the sort the U.S. Supreme Court often likes to tackle.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and James Dalgleish)