Jan. 3 (UPI) -- A group of 17 attorneys general lodged an appeal Thursday against a Texas federal judge's ruling last month declaring the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional.
The coalition of Democrats appealed the ruling to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals based in New Orleans.
On Dec. 14, District Court Judge Reed O'Connor specifically called the individual mandate, which requires Americans to have medical insurance, unconstitutional. Since it is "inseverable" from the rest of the ACA -- the penalty for not having insurance helps pay for the system -- it renders the entire law unconstitutional, the judge said.
Congressional Republicans essentially annulled the mandate last year when they overhauled the U.S. tax code, removing the penalty for not maintaining health coverage. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the ACA in 2012, saying the mandate was constitutional because it was covered by Congress' power to levy taxes.
A statement from the office of California Attorney General Xavier Becerra called O'Connor's ruling an "unfortunate decision that could wreak havoc on the entire American healthcare system and risk lives in every state."
"This shouldn't be a debate; the ACA has been the law for nearly a decade and is the backbone of our healthcare system," Becerra said. "This case impacts nearly every American -- workers covered by employers, families, women, children, young adults, and seniors -- so we will lead the ACA's defense as long and far as it takes.
"It's troubling to think anyone would go back to the days when Americans with serious medical conditions like pregnancy or devastating illnesses like cancer or diabetes could be denied or charged more for coverage due to a preexisting condition."
In addition to California, the states of Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington, and the District of Columbia, joined the appeal.
On Monday, O'Connor said the ACA can remain in effect as it goes through the appeals process.