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Supreme Court will take up challenge to Obamacare's individual mandate

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By Pete Williams  with NBC News Politics
Image:  Supporters of the Affordable Care Act celebrate after the Supreme C
Supporters of the Affordable Care Act celebrate after the Supreme Court upheld the law in a 6-3 vote on June 25, 2015.   -   Copyright  Joshua Roberts Reuters file

The Supreme Court said Monday that it will take up a legal challenge to Obamacare, agreeing to hear the case in its new term that begins in October. That means the program will continue for at least another year and any ruling will come after Election Day.

The decision comes after a federal appeals court ruled in December that the individual mandate, which requires all Americans to buy insurance or pay a penalty on their income tax, is unconstitutional and the rest of the law might not be able to survive without it, prompting California and 18 other blue states to appeal.

Texas and 17 other red states brought the lawsuit against the key part of Obamacare, arguing that the individual mandate was unconstitutional, and in December, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans agreed.

The Supreme Court upheld the law in 2012, ruling that it was a legitimate exercise of Congress's taxing authority. After the then-Republican-led U.S. House set the individual mandate's tax penalty to zero in 2017, conservative-leaning states brought the lawsuit, and a Texas trial judge ruled that because the tax was eliminated, the law could no longer be saved as a use of Congress' taxing power.

In its December ruling, the federal appeals court concluded that without the tax, Congress has no authority to require Americans to buy health insurance. In the ruling, the court sent the case back to the trial judge for another look at whether the entire law is invalid or some parts of it can survive.

The appeals court directed the judge "to employ a finer-toothed comb on remand and conduct a more searching inquiry into which provisions of the ACA Congress intended to be inseverable from the individual mandate."