(RNN) – A federal judge in Texas ruled the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional in whole on Friday night, likely setting up a final decision on the law’s fate at the Supreme Court.
The law, known as Obamacare, was effectively nullified by the ruling.
Judge Reed O’Connor of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, in Fort Worth, heard arguments in the case in early September, but did not issue his ruling until Friday evening.
He did not, however, grant the plaintiffs' request for an injunction, meaning the law’s provisions remain in effect until an appeal reaches the Supreme Court, or the ruling is reversed by an Appeals Court.
That includes the open enrollment period regulated by Obamacare continuing through its Saturday deadline.
At issue in the case was the individual mandate, the provision in Obamacare that requires everyone to have health insurance or face a penalty in the form of a tax.
The Supreme Court upheld that part of the law in 2012, ruling it fell in line with Congress’ power to levy taxes.
Congress, however, eliminated the tax penalty last December as part of President Trump’s major tax overhaul.
A group of 20 states led by Texas sued to invalidate the law, arguing that, therefore, the mandate without a tax penalty attached was unconstitutional, and so too the rest of the law. The Justice Department had also announced in June it would not defend the ACA in the case, endorsing that argument.
“Once the heart of the ACA - the individual mandate - is declared unconstitutional, the remainder of the ACA must also fall,” the suit said.
Judge O’Connor, a George W. Bush appointee, agreed.
“The court … declares the Individual Mandate UNCONSTITUTIONAL,” his judgment concluded. “Further, the Court declares the remaining provisions of the ACA are INSEVERABLE and therefore INVALID.”
That includes, for example, the parts of the law that protected people with pre-existing conditions or expanded Medicaid.
An appeal would also first need to go through the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans before it can be heard by the Supreme Court.
President Trump tweeted that the ruling was “great news for America!”
Leading Democrats such as California Sen. Kamala Harris countered that it “endangers the health care of tens of millions of Americans.”