In a court filing Monday, the Justice Department shifted its legal position on the Affordable Care Act, asking the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to strike down the entire 2010 law, commonly known as ObamaCare. In December, U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor in Texas ruled that ObamaCare became effectively unconstitutional when Republicans zeroed-out the individual mandate in their 2017 tax overhaul. In Monday's filing, the DOJ said it had "determined that the district court's judgment should be affirmed."
"The Department of Justice has determined that the district court's comprehensive opinion came to the correct conclusion and will support it on appeal," spokeswoman Kerri Kupec underscored in a statement. Previously, President Trump's Justice Department had argued for scrapping ObamaCare's protections for pre-existing conditions but not the rest of the law. When the Trump DOJ declined to defend ObamaCare in court, a group of 21 Democratic state attorneys general stepped in, and House Democrats also threw legal support behind the law after winning the House.
Many legal scholars, including conservatives, doubt O'Connor's ruling will stand. If it's upheld, it "would potentially eliminate health care for millions of people and create widespread disruption across the U.S. health-care system — from removing no-charge preventive services for older Americans on Medicare to voiding the expansion of Medicaid in most states," The Washington Post notes. The Trump administration advocating that chaos "could prove to be a gift for Democrats," Bloomberg News suggests.
The Justice Department asking the courts to strike down ObamaCare is "crazy" and "legally untenable," Washington and Lee University law professor emeritus Timothy Jost tells the Post. "It would be like invalidating the Interstate Highway System, causing chaos on an unimaginable scale. It's conceivable that the entire Medicare payment system would collapse." The DOJ's new position looks like "a strictly political decision, not a legal decision," he added. "Trump has wanted to get rid of the ACA, and I guess he sees an opportunity here."