The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit on Friday hit pause on an appeal looking to keep the Affordable Care Act the law of the land, despite opposition from a coalition of Democratic state attorneys general who want to push forward amid the government shutdown.
The order, signed by Judge Leslie Southwick, comes as the nation edges toward its longest shutdown in history. Federal courts are expected to run out of contingency funds on Jan. 18, and some district judges have already paused civil cases that involve federal agencies.
The Administrative Office of the United States Courts was expected to issue shutdown guidance Thursday. That memo never came, and district courts are still awaiting guidance.
The Justice Department has pushed to pause many civil cases across the country in trial and appellate courts, arguing the federal Antideficiency Act generally precludes federal officials from working during a lapse in appropriations. There is an exception under for cases involving human life and the protection of property.
The coalition of states attorneys general, led by California’s Xavier Becerra, are appealing a district court ruling that declared the entire 2010 law unconstitutional after congress zeroed out its individual mandate, or tax penalty, in 2017. Judge Reed O’Connor of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas ruled on Dec. 14 that the individual mandate could not be severed from the whole law.
They face a coalition of state attorneys general looking to undo the Obama-era law, led by Texas’ Ken Paxton.
O’Connor stayed his ruling on Dec. 30, finding that Americans would face great uncertainty during the appeal. O’Connor also noted most Americans have already purchased their health insurance plans for the following year.
The attorneys general, who are defending the law after the Justice Department under President Donald Trump opted not to, have criticized O’Connor’s decision as based on a “flimsy theory” and “ludicrous.”