Authoritarianism in Action: Trump’s Justice Department Lets Politics Overrule the Law on Obamacare

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Authoritarianism in Action: Trump’s Justice Department Lets Politics Overrule the Law on Obamacare

All those dramatic fears you had on election night? They’re starting to come true. This should send chills down your spine. Per the Associated Press:

The Trump administration said in a court filing late Thursday that it will no longer defend key parts of the Affordable Care Act, including the requirement that people have health insurance and provisions that guarantee access to health insurance regardless of any medical conditions.

The decision, announced in a filing in a federal court in Texas, is a rare departure from the Justice Department’s practice of defending federal laws in court. Texas and other Republican-led states are suing to strike down the entire law because Congress recently repealed a provision that people without health insurance must pay a fine. The repeal takes effect next year.

This isn’t about the efficacy of the Affordable Care Act—this is about how the United States of America decides what laws to enforce. This one crossed a red line. Some in the DOJ protested this decision, as the AP reported that “Shortly before the government’s court filing, three career lawyers at the Justice Department withdrew from the case and were replaced by two political appointees, according to court filings.”

The Department of Justice is supposed to defend United States law. The merits of the arguments for and against the Affordable Care Act are secondary to the fact that the DOJ is not supposed to get wrapped up in partisan political fights. If Texas’ effort to strike down the ACA is successful, then Trump’s Department of Justice should enforce that ruling, but it hasn’t happened yet. The Affordable Care Act was passed by Congress, signed into law by the president, and confirmed as constitutional by the Supreme Court. Whether you like it or not, it’s law, and it’s the job of the Department of Justice to argue on behalf of United States law in court.

There’s no other way to say it: Trump’s DOJ is eschewing its legal responsibilities to pursue a partisan agenda. Really what we are witnessing are the glaring flaws in our constitution. It’s a document that depends entirely on an executive who prioritizes the rule of law over his own interests. When the president’s interests supersede the rule of law, you get something like this, where the chief defender of the law eschews his responsibility to serve the interests of his boss. There is no enforcement mechanism to get the executive branch to do its job. Ironically, in our desire to unchain ourselves from the rule of the British crown, we created a position which has more power than most monarchs throughout history.

We should have known this was coming. Trump’s complaints of a “WITCH HUNT!” over the DOJ’s investigation into his campaign’s ties to Russia reveal a man who believes that the enforcers of the law have a higher duty to him than the constitution they swore an oath to. We are watching that belief take root in real time now. And if you’re skeptical my hyperbole, take it from a University of Michigan law professor, and contributor to The Incidental Economist.

Right now, it’s difficult to tell what will happen to your insurance. If the Trump administration gets its way, it’s a certainty that insurance for many folks will either get more expensive or just flat-out disappear on January 1st of next year. This case is likely going to the Supreme Court, and as Nicholas Bagley pointed out, it seems unlikely that they will side with the argument of “we don’t need to argue on behalf of the law,” but this whole mess creates a bunch of uncertainty in the insurance markets, and it establishes that in Jeff Sessions’ DOJ, President Trump’s political priorities can, in fact, supersede the rule of law. I wish I had something positive to end on, but there’s nothing good about this, and it sure looks like this is just the beginning of our descent into true authoritarianism.

Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.

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