A federal judge on Thursday handed House Republicans a significant win in their legal battle against the Affordable Care Act, ruling that the Obama administration had improperly set up a mechanism to reimburse insurance companies for discounts provided to qualifying patients.
Judge Rosemary Collyer of federal district court in Washington found in favor of the GOP and against the Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell, she said, because the money for reimbursements was not specifically appropriated by Congress.
She wrote, “None of Secretaries’ extra-textual arguments—whether based on economics, “unintended” results, or legislative history—is persuasive. The Court will enter judgment in favor of the House of Representatives and enjoin the use of unappropriated monies to fund reimbursements due to insurers under Section 1402. The Court will stay its injunction, however, pending appeal by either or both parties.”
And an appeal from the administration will certainly come, according to White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, who addressed the ruling Thursday afternoon.
“This suit represents the first time in our nation's history that Congress has been permitted to sue executive branch over a disagreement about how to interpret a statute,” he said. “These are the kinds of political disputes that characterize a democracy. It's unfortunate that Republicans have resorted to a taxpayer-funded lawsuit to re-fight a political fight they keep losing.”
For Republicans, though, it was a day to celebrate.
“This is an historic win for the Constitution and the American people,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a statement. “The court ruled that the administration overreached by spending taxpayer money without approval from the people's representatives. Here, the executive branch is being held accountable to We the People, and that's why this decision is very good news.”
Jonathan Turley, the attorney representing House Republicans, said “Judge Collyer's opinion is a resounding victory not just for Congress but for our constitutional system as a whole," Turley said in a statement. "We remain a system based on the principle of the separation of powers and the guarantee that no branch or person can govern alone. It is the very touchstone of the American constitutional system and today that principle was reaffirmed in this historic decision.”
Whether the ruling will survive appeal is an open question. Collyer made the controversial determination at the beginning of the case that the House Republicans had the standing to bring the case against the administration in the first place. Without that finding, the case would not have been allowed to move forward.
Many legal experts have warned that a higher court might overturn the ruling on the standing issue. Writing in The Washington Post on Thursday, Case Western University School of Law professor Jonathan H. Adler wrote, “Under current doctrine ... it’s difficult to argue that the House has standing, and the administration’s arguments are stronger on standing than they are on the merits. In short, the House’s claims are quite strong on the merits, but the case that this dispute should be resolved in federal court (as opposed to in the political branches) is relatively weak.”