The Affordable Care Act in Court (again)

July 25, 2014

Medicine law concept. Gavel and stethoscope on book close upWhen I got to work Tuesday morning I saw a news story that a Federal District Court in Wisconsin had rejected a challenge to the Affordable Care Act’s provision of healthcare subsidies to congressional staff (see the opinion for a more full analysis).  Later on Tuesday, the 4th Circuit and D.C. Circuit Courts of Appeals both ruled on whether the law allowed the federal government to grant certain subsidies to individuals purchasing insurance.  Confusingly, they reached opposite conclusions.

I was curious to see how many federal opinions had addressed the Affordable Care Act, so I ran a quick search on WestlawNext for adv: “Affordable Care Act.”* There were 486 results –a rate of slightly more than two cases a week since the act was signed four years and four months ago – and there are likely more opinions addressing this Act to come.

That struck me as a very high rate of opinions being issued concerning a single federal law, but without a frame of reference it’s tough to say.  Luckily, we can create a frame of reference! I polled a few co-workers to come up with other ideas of major legislation that could have had led to federal litigation, and tested each of them four years and four months after passage to see how many results there were.

No Child Left Behind Act: 39 hits in federal cases in first four years four months on the books.

ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, or the Stimulus Bill): 222 hits in federal cases in first four years, four months on the books.

Americans with Disabilities Act: 484 cases in first four years, for months on the books.

Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act: 555 hits in federal cases (and note that Dodd-Frank is not yet four years, four months old, so its mention-number can still go higher).

And last, but certainly not least:

BAPCPA (Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005): a shocking 3,951 hits in federal cases in first four years, four months on the books

I had expected the ACA to be an outlier, considering the number of high-profile opinions issued around it. In fact, it appears to show up in federal cases at roughly the same rate as prior high-profile federal legislation (except BAPCPA, which shows up at a shocking rate).

If there’s a recent federal act you’re interested in and you’re curious to see how it stacks up, run the search and let us know what you find in the comments!

*I considered running the search using the term ‘Obamacare’ as well, but the cases that just mention Obamacare without mentioning ‘Affordable Care Act’ were rarely challenges dealing with the substance of the act.  See, for example, Hispanic Leadership Fund, Inc. v. Federal Election Commission, 897 F.Supp.2d 407 (E.D. Va. 2012).