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Monday, December 5, 2016
Federal Court HALTS Obamacare Appeal, Deals Obama Setback
A federal appeals court halted a key Obamacare case on Monday, agreeing to put off proceedings until after President-elect Trump takes office and figures out how he wants to proceed — and dealing a blow to President Obama in the meantime.
In a short order the judges put the case in abeyance, and told both sides to give an update by Feb. 21, or a month after Mr. Trump is sworn in.
It’s one of a series of cases that are being delayed to give the new administration a chance to put its stamp on legal strategy. Obama administration lawyers had agreed to the delays in immigration cases, but had fought against a halt in the Obamacare lawsuit.
The case stemmed from a challenge the House of Representatives filed against Mr. Obama’s Health and Human Services Department, which made Obamacare payments to insurance companies despite Congress zeroing the funding out in its appropriations bills.
A lower court sided with the House, ruling both that lawyers had standing to sue and that the spending was illegal. Mr. Obama’s lawyers had fought to keep the appeal on track, but the new order is a setback.
“The D.C. Circuit wisely put this case on hold, recognizing that they may never to resolve this thorny constitutional question. Waiting one month will let the case go away after the change in administrations,” said Josh Blackman, an associate professor at the South Texas College of Law.
He had predicted that the appeals court judges would welcome a chance to take a step back from the case, which presents thorny issues about whether one chamber of Congress can move to stop a runaway executive branch.
The Justice Department declined to comment on the legal blow, but last month Mr. Obama’s lawyers had warned that halting the case would throw Obamacare into chaos because insurers wouldn’t know whether to expect government payments in 2017.
“The district court’s decision thus threatens to ‘create untenable business uncertainty’ for insurers and significant harm to consumers,” Justice Department lawyers argued in their briefs.
But the lower court judge’s ruling hasn’t gone into effect yet, so lawyers for the House said there’s no more uncertainty by delaying. Those lawyers also said there’s a high chance the case would be settled by a Trump administration that’s committed to unraveling Obamacare, and moving ahead now would only waste resources and time, since they’d have to reargue all the issues after the Jan. 20 transition of power.