WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. judge on Friday threw out the state of Maryland’s bid to protect the healthcare law known as Obamacare in a ruling that also sidestepped a decision on whether President Donald Trump’s appointment of Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general was lawful.
In a win for the Republican president, Baltimore-based U.S. District Judge Ellen Hollander said Maryland had failed to show that the Trump administration is likely to terminate enforcement of the 2010 law, officially called the Affordable Care Act.
The claim made by Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, a Democrat, “consists of little more than supposition and conjecture about President Trump’s possible actions,” Hollander wrote.
“In effect, the state proclaims that the sky is falling. But, falling acorns, even several of them, do not amount to a falling sky,” Hollander added.
Trump’s administration has taken several steps to undermine Obamacare after Congress failed in Republican efforts to repeal the law championed by Trump’s Democratic predecessor Barack Obama.
Frosh said in a statement that Hollander’s decision does not end his effort to defend the law.
“We will resume this litigation immediately if the president breaks his promise of continued enforcement,” said Frosh, who is pursuing separate litigation accusing Trump of violating an anti-corruption provision of the Constitution called the emoluments clause.
By tossing the Obamacare lawsuit, Hollander avoided having to decide on the lawfulness of Whitaker’s appointment, although the judge did say Maryland had presented “sound arguments” in support of its contention that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein should have become acting attorney general when Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions in November.
Hollander noted that the Supreme Court recently rejected a similar challenge to the appointment of Whitaker, a Trump loyalist who has been criticized by Democrats, and that other courts have found he was lawfully appointed. Whitaker remains as acting attorney general, though Trump has nominated William Barr, who previously held the post, as attorney general, the top U.S law enforcement official.
The lawsuit asked Hollander to declare Obamacare constitutional. The case arose against the backdrop of a December ruling by U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor in Fort Worth finding the Affordable Care Act was unconstitutional following revisions to the tax code made by Congress, which removed an Obamacare penalty for failing to obtain health insurance.
The law was challenged by a group of states including Texas. That decision is now on appeal, with the law remaining in effect in the meantime.
Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham