Justice Dept. asks for delay in ACA case due to shutdown

By Clyde Hughes   |   Jan. 7, 2019 at 1:01 PM
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer speak to reporters Friday following a meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI

Jan. 7 (UPI) -- The Justice Department has asked a federal judge in Texas to delay a motion in a lawsuit connected with the Affordable Care Act because of the ongoing partial government shutdown.

Federal attorneys filed the request Friday, but it did not appear on the court docket until Monday.

The request stems from House Democrats filing a motion asking the lower chamber to intervene in the lawsuit against the ACA, filed by Republican officials. The Democrats took over the House last week and made their request to support the ACA one of their first orders of business.

U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor ruled last month the ACA individual mandate -- which requires Americans to purchase medical insurance or pay a tax penalty -- is unconstitutional. As such, he said, it outlaws the entire provision. Congressional Republicans annulled the mandate last year when they overhauled the U.S. tax code.

Seventeen state attorneys general lodged an appeal last week against O'Connor's ruling to the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. Friday, House Democrats asked to join the appeal.

Assistant U.S. Attorney General Jody Hunt told O'Connor Justice Department lawyers could not respond due to the shutdown.

"Although the federal defendants would like to be heard before the court rules on the motion, they are unable to prepare their opposition at this time due to the lapse in appropriations," Hunt wrote in court papers.

O'Connor said after his ruling, though, the ACA would remain in effect until the matter is settled in appellate courts

The government shutdown is in its third week, as President Donald Trump demands money for a wall along the southern U.S. border to be added to funding legislation. Democrats in the House and Senate have declined to do so.

Roughly 800,000 federal employees remain out of work or are working without pay, temporarily, during the impasse.

Last week, the House passed funding for eight of the nine closed departments, providing funding through Feb. 8 without wall money, but Trump said he would veto the measure if it reached his desk.

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