Federal Judge Allows House GOP Lawsuit Against ACA To Advance
On Wednesday, a federal judge ruled that a lawsuit challenging the Obama administration's power to make changes to the Affordable Care Act can move forward, the Wall Street Journal reports (Kendall, Wall Street Journal, 9/9).
The suit, authorized by House lawmakers in July 2014, contends that Congress never authorized the appropriations necessary for a program that reimburses insurance companies for discounts that they are required to give low-income enrollees. The lawsuit also asserts that the administration's delay of the employer mandate falls outside the constitutional powers of the president (California Healthline, 11/24/14).
The administration had asked the court to dismiss the suit.
U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer ruled that the House has legal standing to file suit against the administration and pursue claims that the administration's actions violated the Constitution. She wrote in the decision, "Congress' power of the purse is the ultimate check on the otherwise unbounded power of the executive." She added that Congress has a constitutional interest in protecting its role in authorizing how public money is spent (Wall Street Journal, 9/9).
Further, Collyer wrote in the ruling that if the administration had unconstitutionally allocated funding for the ACA, "the House has been injured in a concrete and particular way that is traceable to the secretaries and remediable in court." She continued, "As the House argues, Congress cannot fulfill its constitutional role if it specifically denies funding and the executive simply finds money elsewhere without consequence," adding, "Indeed, the harm alleged in this case is particularly insidious because, if proved, it would eliminate Congress' role via-a-vis the executive" (Schencker, Modern Healthcare, 9/9).
In addition, Collyer rejected the administration's argument that the court should not be involved in a political conflict between the executive and legislative branches of government. She wrote in the decision, "The mere fact that the House of Representatives is the plaintiff does not turn this suit into a non-justiciable political dispute" (Wall Street Journal, 9/9). She added, "Despite its potential political ramifications, this suit remains a plain dispute over a constitutional command, of which the Judiciary has long been the ultimate interpreter" (Ferris, The Hill, 9/9).
While the ruling allowed the lawsuit to advance, it did not address the validity of the House's allegations against the administration related to federal funding (Wall Street Journal, 9/9). Collyer wrote, "The Court stresses that the merits have not been briefed or decided; only the question of standing has been determined" (The Hill, 9/9).
In addition, Collyer made a point to note the decision should not be viewed as a pathway for future Congresses to sue future presidents. She wrote that the decision should not "open" any "floodgates" for such lawsuits because her ruling was based on "the extraordinary facts" on which this particular case is based (Ruger, CQ Roll Call, 9/9).
Ruling Dismisses Challenge of Employer Mandate Delay
Meanwhile, Collyer dismissed the House's challenge to the administration's delay of the ACA's employer mandate. She noted that the delay did not involve the direct spending authority of the House and that pursuing the claim would "contradict decades of administrative law and precedent" (Wall Street Journal, 9/9). Further, Collyer added that the allegations "concern[ed] only the implementation of a statute, not adherence to any specific constitutional requirement" (The Hill, 9/9).
An administration spokesperson said the Department of Justice will pursue an immediate appellate review of the ruling. The spokesperson said, "The law is clear that Congress cannot try to settle garden-variety disputes with the executive branch in the courts," adding, "This case is just another partisan attack ... and we believe the courts will ultimately dismiss it" (Wall Street Journal, 9/9).
According to Modern Healthcare, Collyer's ruling on standing could be reversed on appeal before the overarching lawsuit is decided (Modern Healthcare, 9/9).
Meanwhile, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement, "I am grateful to the court for ruling that this historic overreach can be challenged by the coequal branch of government with the sole power to create or change the law," adding, "The House will continue our effort to ensure the separation of powers in our democratic system remains clear" (Wall Street Journal, 9/9).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.