On Wednesday, a federal district court in Washington, DC ruled that the House of Representatives had standing to bring claims against the Obama administration regarding healthcare spending under the Affordable Care Act. That is, the court found that the House could sue the administration for spending billions of dollars on the ACA subsidies that Congress allegedly never approved. The ruling is the first to allow the House to sue an administration regarding its spending ability.
In determining that the House had standing to bring the case, Judge Rosemary M. Collyer of the US District Court for the District of Columbia found that the House had “suffered a concrete, particularized injury that gives it standing to sue” because Congress alone has the constitutional authority to pass laws appropriating how funds are to be spent. Judge Collyer further stated that allowing the executive branch to spend money without appropriations directed by Congress would result in a “collapse” of the entire “constitutional structure.” Accordingly, she held that the House had standing to sue as an institution to the extent that it sought to redress alleged constitutional violations. Judge Collyer also stated that “the mere fact that the House of Representatives is the plaintiff does not turn this suit into a non-justiciable ‘political’ dispute” because the court must have the ability to settle constitutional disputes.
The court held that the House did not, however, have standing to pursue its claim regarding delays in enacting the ACA’s employer mandate. Although the House had argued that the administration’s actions postponing the employer mandate had violated the Constitution by “usurping [Congress’s] Article I legislative authority[,]” Judge Collyer found that accepting this argument would result in “every instance of an extra-statutory action by an Executive officer  constitut[ing] a cognizable constitutional violation, redressable by Congress through a lawsuit.” As a result, the court granted the administration’s motion to dismiss regarding the employer mandate counts.
Although critics of the court’s ruling claim that the decision could expand judges’ role in resolving issues between the political branches, Judge Collyer stated that the decision would “open no floodgates, as it is inherently limited by the extraordinary facts of which it was born.” The Obama administration has indicated that it will appeal the ruling immediately. The case is United States House of Representatives v. Burwell, No. 14-1967, in the US District Court for the District of Columbia.