• Tuesday's denial has no bearing on whether the court will take up the case when questions are resolved by lower courts
  • The high court upheld the constitutionality of the individual mandate in 2012
  • The case is the latest effort by Republicans to dismantle the Affordable Care Act

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to expedite Democrats’ appeal on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans upheld a Texas case that ruled the mandate requiring everyone to have health insurance is unconstitutional because the penalty for failing to comply had been negated by Congress. The appellate court also sent the case back to the lower courts to determine what parts of the ACA, if any, could survive.

The U.S. House and several states controlled by Democrats petitioned the justices to fast-track the case, calling it too important to wait for the district court and appellate court to act again. The federal government declined to defend the mandate and said there is “no emergency” to compel the court to act quickly.

Tuesday’s decision does not guarantee the high court will hear the case once it is relitigated in the lower courts. That decision is not expected to come before March, pushing any ruling to next term.

In 2012, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the individual mandate based on Congress’ power to levy taxes. After that, the Republican-controlled Congress reduced the penalty for noncompliance to zero.

The denial, which was issued without comment, came as part of the court’s regular list of orders.

Republicans have been trying to kill off the ACA, aka Obamacare, since it was signed into law in 2009. President Trump joined the fray when he came into office and has been promising a much better replacement. No Republican-backed replacement has been adopted.

The House and 20 Democratic-led states had argued the 5th Circuit decision “poses a severe, immediate, and ongoing threat to the orderly operation of healthcare markets through the country, casts considerable doubt over whether millions of individuals will continue to be able to afford vitally important care, and leaves a critical sector of the nation’s economy in unacceptable limbo.”

Solicitor General Noel Francisco said the appellate decision preserves the status quo and called Supreme Court intervention at this stage premature.

“The Fifth Circuit’s decision itself does not warrant immediate review because it did not definitively resolve any question of practical consequence,” Francisco wrote.

U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor also ruled that because the individual mandate was unconstitutional, the entire act must be overturned. He then stayed his ruling to allow for appeals.