Early last month, President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump announces new social media network called 'TRUTH Social' Virginia State Police investigating death threat against McAuliffe Meadows hires former deputy AG to represent him in Jan. 6 probe: report MORE laid out in no uncertain terms what he wants to do to the Affordable Care Act: “We want to terminate health care under ObamaCare.”
That same day, as COVID-19 continued to spread, wreaking havoc on people’s health and livelihoods, Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP blocks Senate Democrats' revised elections bill A politicized Supreme Court? That was the point The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Uber - Democrats optimistic after Biden meetings MORE (Ky.) sought to ram through the nomination of Justin Walker—an anti-ACA zealot—to the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
It was no coincidence. Senate Republicans and President Trump have turned to the courts to do what they have been unable to do legislatively—repeal the ACA and its protections. Judges are deciding the fate of Americans’ health coverage, right now. In early March, the Supreme Court agreed to take up a case brought by the Trump administration seeking to strike down the entire ACA. Regardless of the outcome of that case, there is little doubt that opponents of the ACA—including the president and his Republican allies in the Senate—will rely on life-tenured judges like Justin Walker to prevent future administrations from enacting meaningful health care reform.
Judge Walker, who has served on the Western District of Kentucky for just seven months and is a McConnell protégé, is just the latest in a long line of judges advanced by President Trump and his Republican allies in the Senate that are trying to take away Americans’ health care. For example, Chad Readler, now an Ohio-based judge on the Sixth Circuit, led the Trump administration’s efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. And David Porter, who holds a Pennsylvania seat on the Third Circuit, once wrote that the ACA “violates the framers’ constitutional design.”
Judge Walker’s views on the ACA are no different. It’s clear President Trump and McConnell chose Walker not in spite of his opposition to Americans’ health care protections, but because of it. In 2018, before his nomination to the district court, Walker spelled out his anti-ACA bona fides in a piece praising then-Judge Brett Kavanaugh for providing a “roadmap” by which the Supreme Court could strike down the ACA. And he called the Supreme Court’s prior decision upholding the ACA “indefensible” and “catastrophic[ ].”
Walker’s attacks on the health care protections Americans rely on have continued since he joined the federal bench—destroying any hope that he would be able to serve as an objective jurist. In March 2020, Judge Walker highlighted his antipathy to the Affordable Care Act at his formal swearing-in ceremony as district judge. During the ceremony, Judge Walker indicated that the “worst words” he heard while clerking for Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court included the chief justice’s rationale for upholding the ACA. Recently, Judge Walker tried to explain away this comment by saying it was a “light-hearted” and “tongue-in-cheek” reference to the chief justice’s decision and Justice Kennedy’s dissent.
To be clear, there is nothing light-hearted about stripping tens of millions of Americans of their health coverage, as Judge Walker and his Republican backers would do. There is nothing tongue-in-cheek about jeopardizing coverage for the estimated 135 million non-elderly Americans with preexisting conditions, as would happen if the president, Senate Republicans and Judge Walker got their way.
We must not forget that, even in the midst of a global pandemic that has taken over 100,000 American lives, this president and McConnell will not stop trying to take away people’s health coverage.
But we will not stop protecting Americans’ access to health care, including by voting against Justin Walker’s nomination to the D.C. Circuit.
Casey is the senior senator from Pennsylvania, Baldwin is the junior senator from Wisconsin, Stabenow is the senior senator from Michigan and Brown is the senior senator from Ohio.