The US Supreme Court now has twice heard major challenges to the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, and twice it's come down on the side of the Obama administration and upheld the law. But that hasn't kept opponents from trying again—and again and again. Today, the court refused even to hear the latest challenge to the law, a sign that the justices are perhaps ready to move on.
The case, Sissel v. HHS, involves an artist and National Guard reservist who, like other anti-ACA plaintiffs, really doesn't want to buy health insurance. Represented by the conservative Pacific Legal Foundation, Sissel "prefers to devote his resources to building up his art business rather than buying health insurance," according to his petition for certiorari.
Unfortunately for Sissel, that's no longer an option thanks to Obamacare, which now requires him to get some health insurance or pay a fine to the federal government. So in 2010, he sued the US Department of Health and Human Services, arguing that the law should be invalidated because the fine he's subject to is actually a tax, and that tax was created by the US Senate and not the House, as required by the Constitution's Origination Clause.
Sissel's challenge is backed by none other than GOP presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who filed an amicus brief in the case with fellow Republican Sens. John Cornyn (Texas) and Mike Lee (Utah), arguing that the Senate overstepped its authority in crafting the ACA. Cruz and the others write in their brief:
[W]hile it may seem odd that sitting Senators would speak out in support of enforcing restrictions on the authority of their own chamber to initiate bills for raising revenues, their duty is first and foremost to "support and defend the Constitution," not to aggrandize power for themselves and their Senate colleagues.
Cruz's emphatic support notwithstanding, the lower courts have firmly rejected Sissel's arguments, stating that the ACA was not a revenue-raising bill under the definition of the Origination Clause, largely because its primary purpose was to extend health insurance coverage to lots of Americans, not to raise taxes. Besides, the DC Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit said the tax provision did originate in the House. The Senate merely amended it, something it does all the time without controversy.
The Supreme Court seems to have agreed, which was not unexpected. The high court is not fond of Origination Clause challenges, viewing them as largely political questions, not legal ones, and it has never overturned a law based on one. As Constitutional Accountability Center Chief Counsel Elizabeth Wydra noted in a press release Tuesday, "It is hardly surprising that the Court has refused to hear this case…[T]he ultimate outcome of challenges like this one aren't in doubt. They are simply meritless. The Court upheld the ACA for the second time just last June, with Chief Justice Roberts picking up a sixth vote to send a clear signal that he's had enough of what has become a blatant ideological crusade. One questions whether anti-Obamacare legal activists have gotten the message."