(Note: These two cases have been consolidated into one, with oral arguments lasting one hour for both cases.)
Even though this case is being heard after the election on Nov 3 and a decision won’t be announced until next spring, the ACA (or Obamacare) is a central focus of the 2010 election cycle, This is due in no small part to the fact that so many workers have lost their employer-sponsored health insurance or are facing huge medical bills, all due to the coronavirus pandemic. To be discussing eliminating health insurance for thousands of people right now is a huge concern.
In 2012 the Supreme Court decided that the ACA’s provision for an individual mandate was valid under Congress’ taxing power. In 2017 the Republican tax revisions included a cut of the penalty for those who lacked insurance to zero.
Breaking along political lines, the states sued, (Texas led by other Republican-led states) arguing that since the mandate was no longer tied to a specific tax penalty, the ACA had lost its legal foundations. They argued further since the mandate was tied to so many other parts of the ACA law, the whole law should be struck down. (This would include protections for people with preexisting conditions.) The Justice Department filed briefs siding with Texas and states filing with Texas. And in December of 2019, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declared the entire law unconstitutional.
California and other Democratically-led states appealed, saying that the issues raised in this case would be litigated for months or years, and were too important and that the 5th Circuit had erred in its ruling. These states have asked the Supreme Court to review the ruling.
If the Democrats in Congress are not successful in stopping the Republican effort to fill Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat before Nov 10, the case will be argued before a full Supreme Court bench with a 6-3 conservative majority. If they do succeed in putting off filling the seat until after the election the case will be heard before an 8 member bench. (However, just because Chief Justice Roberts ruled in favor of the ACA in 2012 doesn’t mean he will do so in this case.)