Joni Ernst’s Supreme Court Vote Could Spell ACA’s Demise

As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst will have the opportunity in October to question Judge Amy Coney Barrett on how she would conduct herself as a member of the United States Supreme Court. Given Barrett’s tenure as a law school professor and her years as a federal judge, senators will have a trove of legal opinions and personal statements from which they can draw conclusions about her thoughts on a range of high-impact issues like marriage equality, abortion and the Affordable Care Act.

The Supreme Court in November is scheduled to take up its third challenge to former President Barack Obama’s signature health care law. The latest case argues the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional due to a 2017 change in the federal tax code that eliminated the law’s financial penalties for Americans who choose not to have health insurance.

Ernst, seeking reelection for the first time this year, has refused to say whether she supports the anti-ACA lawsuit. “We’ll see what the decision is,” Ernst recently told Politico. “But that’s in the court’s hands.”

On Tuesday, Demand Justice launched a $10 million ad campaign in Iowa, Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina and national cable TV calling on senators to “do it right” and oppose a confirmation process this year.

“In Iowa, the ad will specifically call on voters to ‘tell Sen. Ernst to do it right’ and oppose Trump and [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell’s efforts to play politics with the Court,” Demand Justice states in a press release.

If Judge Barrett is confirmed prior to the start of oral arguments on Nov. 10, she will join her fellow eight justices in hearing the case brought by Republican state attorneys general and supported by President Trump’s Justice Department.

If Barrett is not confirmed in time to hear oral arguments and the court deadlocks in a four-to-four tie, the lower court ruling on the constitutionality of the ACA would be upheld. In December 2019, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Republicans and the Trump Administration by ruling the individual insurance mandate was unconstitutional.

During the three years Barrett has served on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, she has not participated in any cases involving the ACA, according to The Washington Post. The newspaper points, however, to an essay published in 2017 by a journal of Notre Dame Law School for insight into her opinion on the decade-old health care law.

The essay, The Post reports, was critical of Chief Justice John Roberts and the majority opinion he authored the first time the highest court affirmed the Affordable Care Act. Justice Roberts, Barrett wrote, “pushed the Affordable Care Act beyond its plausible meaning to save the statue.”

On Monday night, during Ernst’s first debate against Democrat Theresa Greenfield, the candidates were asked how the federal government should respond in the event the Affordable Care Act is repealed. When pressed on why Republicans have not replaced the ACA or put a comprehensive replacement plan on the table, Ernst said “there have been a number of plans that we have discussed.”

Referencing her diabetic siblings, Ernst said health insurance protections for people with pre-existing conditions “is an issue that is very important to me. Making sure that the federal government is caring for those people and providing equal access to health care products, making sure that they are affordable, that should be the federal government’s role.”

As Ernst runs her reelection campaign she has been sure to voice support for health insurance guidelines that require coverage for pre-existing conditions, despite her multiple votes in the Senate to repeal the ACA.

President Trump has long promised to put forward a proposal to replace the Affordable Care Act, which has dramatically changed both private and government-backed health insurance in the U.S. since it took effect in 2010. His administration has not released a health care plan, yet he continues to advocate for the ACA to be “terminated.”

The Iowa Democratic Party said Ernst likely will be “the deciding vote” for Barrett’s confirmation, given that GOP Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins broke with their party to oppose moving forward with a nominee this year.

“With complete disregard of the voice of Iowans, Sen. Ernst is trying to ram through a lifetime appointment who could cast the deciding vote to gut coverage for pre-existing conditions and dismantle Medicaid expansion after the election,” said IDP chair Mark Smith.

Matt Sinovic, executive director of Progress Iowa, said Ernst and senior Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley “should be put on notice that a vote to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court is a vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act.”

“It would be a vote to rip health coverage away from hundreds of thousands of Iowans, including more than 8,000 Iowa veterans,” Sinovic said in a statement. “And it would be a vote to allow insurance companies to discriminate against 1.3 million Iowans with pre-existing conditions.”


By Elizabeth Meyer
Posted 9/30/20

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