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Vox Sentences: Obamacare goes to court — again

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A federal appeals court panel will rule on whether the Affordable Care Act is constitutional; France imposes an eco-tax on plane tickets.

The Affordable Care Act is back in court

Joe Raedle/Getty Images
  • The Affordable Care Act is being challenged in court — again — this time in front of a panel Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals judges in New Orleans. [CNN / Tami Luhby]
  • The legal battle goes all the way back to 2012, when the Supreme Court ruled that Congress had the power to impose a tax on uninsured people (also known as the individual mandate). [NBC News / Pete Williams]
  • Fast-forward to 2017, when the GOP tax cut bill effectively eliminated the individual mandate penalty by reducing the tax to zero percent. Subsequently, Republican attorneys general and governors filed Texas v. United States in February 2018, saying that the individual mandate was now unconstitutional because there was no tax penalty in effect. They claimed the Supreme Court only upheld the ACA because it was under Congress’s taxing power, and that therefore the entire law was invalidated. [AP / Kevin McGill and Rebecca Santana]
  • District Court Judge Reed O’Connor took the Republicans’ side and ruled the entirety of the ACA unconstitutional in the absence of the tax penalty. Tuesday’s hearing is a direct appeal to O’Connor’s ruling, led by a coalition of Democrats including the House of Representatives. [NPR / Julie Rovner]
  • Some experts say that argument against the ACA isn’t particularly strong: Even if the individual mandate is found unconstitutional, it would be a stretch to deem the rest of the law invalid. [Vox / Li Zhou]
  • 20 million people could lose their health care if the ACA is eliminated. People with preexisting conditions would lose their protection and face higher prices or denial of coverage. [NYT / Abby Goodnough]
  • No matter what the Fifth Circuit rules, the losing side will most likely appeal to the Supreme Court — although the justices are less likely to take up the case if the appeals court rejects O’Connor’s ruling. If they do end up hearing the case, it would be their third time ruling on the ACA; both previous times, they’ve sided with the health care law. [Vox /Li Zhou]
  • The ACA has been a centerpiece policy for Democrats, and with legal challenges against it in the news again, expect many of the 2020 candidates to rally around the fight for health care. [Reuters / Nate Raymond]

France hits the airplane industry with an eco-tax

  • France announced on Tuesday that it plans to impose an eco-tax on plane tickets starting next year in an attempt to combat climate change. [AP / Thomas Adamson and Frank Jordans]
  • Economy tickets will have a tax of €1.50 ($1.70), while business-class tickets could be charged up to €18 ($20). Only flights that depart from France will be subject to the taxes. [BBC]
  • The tax is expected to raise €180 million ($201.69 million) in 2020, and the money will be used to fund eco-friendly alternatives. [Independent / Tom Embury-Dennis]
  • Environmental activists are welcoming the new measure, saying that airlines must curb their greenhouse gas emissions as part of a larger fight against climate change. As of now, airlines are responsible for 2 percent of man-made greenhouse gases — and that’s only expected to increase in the next few decades if the issue goes unaddressed. [AP / Thomas Adamson and Frank Jordans]
  • But airlines aren’t happy: Air France, which operates 50 percent of its flights out of France, said it would cost the company more than €60 million per year, ultimately hurting its competitiveness. Airline shares collectively fell when the news of the tax was announced. [Reuters]
  • France had similarly tried to impose an eco-tax last year on diesel fuel, which ultimately gave birth to the “yellow vest” protests. Experts said this version of the eco-tax might be more palatable because while driving a car is nearly unavoidable, airplanes are more commonly used by the wealthy. [Euronews / Pauline Bock]


  • More than 150 million Bibles are printed in China. A trade war with the country could ultimately lead to a shortage of the religious text. [AP / Travis Loller]
  • Disney faced backlash after introducing a black actress as the lead for the upcoming live-action version of The Little Mermaid. Freeform, a Disney-owned TV network, had a message for all the haters: “Ariel ... is a mermaid” and a fictional character. [Washington Post / Allyson Chiu]
  • First it was The Office. Now it’s Friends. Two of Netflix’s most streamed shows are leaving the platform. [WSJ / Joe Flint]
  • Uber Copter is Uber’s newest helicopter service in New York City. It’s an eight-minute trip from the city to JFK International Airport — and a one-way trip will run about $200. [CNN / Matt McFarland]
  • A white man allegedly killed a black 17-year-old because the teen’s rap music made him feel “unsafe.” The victim had done nothing else to provoke or threaten him. [Slate Magazine / Elliot Hannon]


“If they are successful in striking down the Affordable Care Act, Republicans will own all of the consequences.” [Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer on the most recent legal challenges to the ACA]

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