The Biden administration on Wednesday urged the Supreme Court to uphold the Affordable Care Act, a reversal from the Trump administration's backing of a constitutional challenge to the sweeping health care law.
In a two-page letter, the Department of Justice (DOJ) told the court that the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as ObamaCare, remains constitutional, even though a tax penalty meant to enforce the purchase of insurance by most Americans was zeroed out under the previous administration.
"Following the change in Administration, the Department of Justice has reconsidered the government’s position in these cases," Deputy Solicitor General Edwin Kneedler wrote, adding that "the United States no longer adheres to the [Trump administration's] conclusions."
The development, while unsurprising, marked a dramatic shift in legal positions since November when the justices heard oral arguments in the case.
Under Trump, the DOJ firmly backed a bid by Republican states urging the justices to strike down the law in its entirety.
Led by Texas, the GOP challengers argued that President TrumpDonald TrumpStowaway found in landing gear of plane after flight from Guatemala to Miami Kushner looking to Middle East for investors in new firm: report GOP eyes booting Democrats from seats if House flips MORE’s 2017 tax-cut law had effectively rendered the health care mandate provision of ObamaCare unconstitutional. Without the tax penalty, they argued, ObamaCare effectively lost its constitutional footing, requiring its invalidation by the court.
But the Biden administration in its Wednesday letter urged the justices to preserve the law. They argued that Trump had not rendered ObamaCare illegal by eliminating the tax penalty.
Alternatively, the DOJ said the justices could simply remove the insurance mandate if they found it unconstitutional, while sparing the rest of the law.
This concept, known as “severability,” appeared to gain traction during oral arguments, with even some of the court’s more conservative members.
Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughRoe redux: Is 'viability' still viable as a constitutional doctrine? Graham emerges as go-to ally for Biden's judicial picks Race is not central to Rittenhouse case — but the media shout it anyway MORE seemed to express the view that if the court were to strike down the provision of the law mandating the purchase of health insurance, the rest of the law should be allowed to survive.
Doing so would save some of the core components of ObamaCare, including its protections for people with preexisting conditions.
The Biden administration now joins a coalition of 20 states, led by California, along with the Democratic-led House, in defending the law.
A decision in the case is expected before the court’s term ends in late June.
Updated at 4:21 p.m.