Late Friday, federal judge Reed O’Connor took it upon himself to strike down the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare.
O’Connor was responding to a lawsuit brought by the nation’s Republican attorneys general, who insisted that when Congress struck down the law’s provision requiring people to buy health insurance, the entire legislation was void.
The decision will be appealed, so nothing changes for the time being. But the ruling proves once again that the right wing federal judges Republicans are confirming at a rapid rate have the power to make life miserable for the LGBTQ community.
O’Connor was appointed to the bench by George W. Bush, which should serve as a sharp reminder to anyone thinking those were the good old days. O’Connor is the definition of a partisan judge, so much so that Republicans like to bring him cases challenging Obama-era policies.
Chief among them have been policies protecting transgender people and LGBTQ couples.
O’Connor was the judge who blocked an Obama Administration ruling allowing trans students to use the bathroom of the gender they identify with. O’Connor insisted that the law only covered “the biological and anatomical differences between male and female students as determined at their birth.”
The Obama administration appealed the ruling, but the Trump administration dropped the appeal.
Not content to leave it there, O’Connor also issued another ruling blocking protections in health care treatments for transgender individuals. O’Connor argued that the protections were unfair to conservative Christian health care providers, who apparently take precedence over patients.
O’Connor is also the judge who decided that the federal Family Medical Leave Act didn’t apply to married same-sex couples. He decided that the term “spouse” didn’t cover gay and lesbian couples. That ruling was eventually overturned.
Predictably, O’Connor’s latest foray into tearing down Obama’s legacy will have an outsized impact on the LGBTQ community.
Chief among the implications would be the demise of protections for “pre-existing conditions,” which includes HIV. Without those protections, insurance companies can either charge exorbitant premiums for coverage or just deny it altogether.
For all their braying about wanting to kill Obamacare, Republicans are finding that they should have been more careful for what they wish. Polls from the midterm elections found that healthcare was a top priority for voters and a crucial weapon for Democrats.
While Republicans insist that they can come up with something better, they have never floated any detailed alternative. Indeed, Obamacare is a nationwide retread of the system that was introduced in Massachusetts by Mitt Romney–the 2012 Republican presidential nominee.
Many legal scholars believe that O’Connor’s ruling will never stand up on appeal. But looking at the composition of the current Supreme Court, who would want to take that bet.
In the meantime, O’Connor continues to build on his track record of attacking vulnerable communities.