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Many Republicans see the Supreme Court as a vehicle for delivering the social and economic policies that they might not be able to get through Congress. That's one reason they were so eager to ram Judge Amy Coney Barrett through the confirmation process in the days before an election.
But the court has not always played along. While it has shown a peculiar loyalty to Republicans on election law, it has sometimes angered them with expansive rulings on gay rights and same-sex couples.
Nothing, however, has tested the justices' independence as much as their handling of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. That is because Republicans keep demanding that judges strike down the law - running their cases up to the nation's highest court, failing and then starting the process anew - even as GOP efforts to kill the law the legitimate way, by enacting a law repealing it, keep coming up short.
Third Obamacare challenge
Tuesday, the Supreme Court hears a third Republican-initiated challenge to the 2010 law. This time it will be during a pandemic that is surging throughout the United States, has already claimed the lives of 238,000 Americans and has caused millions of people to lose their medical insurance along with their jobs.
About 20 million people rely on the ACA for health coverage. Millions more benefit from it in other ways, including knowing that it will be there if they lose their job and knowing that they can't be denied coverage based on a preexisting condition, as was the case before Obamacare was enacted.
Coverage for preexisting conditions is crucial at a time when more than 10 million Americans have tested positive for COVID-19 and could develop long-term conditions that, without the ACA, could result in denial of coverage.
The ACA has become so critical to our nation's medical care system, the case before the court has attracted a deluge of legal briefs from health organizations saying that striking the law down would cause utter chaos. The briefs come not just from doctor and nurse groups but also from hospitals, insurers and other big corporate interests.
Co-opting the Supreme Court
What makes the latest attempt to co-opt the Supreme Court particularly pernicious is that this effort is essentially a tag-team match between politicians and judges.
In 2012, the high court upheld the ACA's constitutionality after Chief Justice John Roberts concluded that the law's mandate that individuals have coverage or pay a financial penalty could be construed as a tax. Therefore, he reasoned, the act passed constitutional muster based on Congress' power to levy taxes.
The drama, however, was not over. After one more failed attempt to repeal the law in 2017 (this time despite the GOP having control of the White House and both chambers of Congress) Republicans decided to repeal the penalty and demand that courts do away with the rest.
Officially, the case before the high court is about "severability" - whether the nearly 1,000 pages of Obamacare can stand if a few critical lines are cut out. Contrary to Democratic rhetoric leading up to the election, many legal scholars doubt that the court, in a decision expected next spring, would throw out the whole law.
Even so, at a time when Americans are hunkered down and masked up in the midst of a deadly pandemic, the last thing they should have to worry about is losing their medical safety net because Republicans are hellbent on shredding it.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Supreme Court, again, entertains Republican challenge to Obamacare