A federal judge on Friday dismissed a lawsuit by Maryland’s Democratic attorney general that sought to protect the Affordable Care Act from threats by the Trump administration to undermine it.
The judge, Ellen L. Hollander, appointed by President Obama, ruled that the state’s attorney general had not proved that the administration is failing to enforce the sprawling 2010 health care law. She said the state could revive its suit if such evidence materialized.
“In effect, the state proclaims that the sky is falling,” the judge wrote in a 48-page opinion. “But falling acorns, even several of them, do not amount to a falling sky.”
The suit, filed in September by Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh, has been a counterpoint of sorts to a federal lawsuit in Texas challenging the ACA’s constitutionality brought by that state’s Republican attorney general and nearly a score of GOP counterparts.
In mid-December, a conservative federal judge in Fort Worth ruled the entire law is unconstitutional. That case is being appealed and is considered likely to reach the Supreme Court, which has twice before upheld the ACA’s constitutionality.
The ruling in the Texas case, which has sent shivers through much of the health-care industry about the law’s future, figured in the Maryland judge’s logic.
In arguing the court should affirm the ACA is constitutional, the Maryland suit said, in part, that the administration’s eagerness to sabotage the law was evident from the decision by then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to defend it against the Texas challenge.
But Hollander, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, noted in her opinion that the administration said just after the Texas ruling that it would continue to carry out the law while that case is appealed — and that the administration did not mind if U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor kept the law intact while the case moves through higher courts.
“The Trump administration’s decision not to defend parts of the ACA in court is not the same as failing to enforce it,” she wrote. “The former amounts to a litigation position, the latter to potentially upending an industry that accounts for nearly one-firth of the country’s economy.”
Though “the president’s profound disdain for the ACA cannot be seriously disputed,” Hollander wrote, “neither the president’s zealous attempts to repeal the statute, nor his derisive commends about it, support an inference that he will fail to enforce the law.”
In dismissing the suit “without prejudice,” she left the door open for Maryland to reactivate the case later on.
Frosh said in a statement: “The effect of the court’s ruling today is simply that we must wait to pursue our case.”
In an interview, the attorney general said he understood the judge’s reasoning, saying that it paralleled the Supreme Court’s divided ruling last summer upholding the administration’s third attempt at a travel ban. The high court majority ruled the ban was within President Trump’s authority because its text does not mention religion, despite his rhetoric toward Muslims.
Still, Frosh said, the ACA deserves court protection from a hostile president: “If you look at his actions, he’s done everything within his power to kill the Affordable Care Act.”