This hasn’t been a good week for Democrats and progressives in federal courts. President Trump got his travel ban in the Supreme Court, despite his documented intent to make it a Muslim ban. The Court also dealt a serious blow to labor in Janus v. AFSCME, curtailing the ability of unions to raise funds. And then there was the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, whose departure will mean an unbreakable arch-conservative majority in that same body.
But on Friday, Democrats received a sliver of daylight. A federal district court decided to vacate a plan from the Kentucky government to implement work requirements for able-bodied adults in the state Medicaid program. That decision calls into doubt an initiative strongly favored by the Trump administration and several Republican governors across the country. It also challenges a larger administration plan to refashion all federal welfare and means-tested poverty programs, and should kick off a flurry of court activity on the issue.
Kentucky created the work requirement in its Medicaid program back in January, after the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued official guidance encouraging “state efforts to test incentives that make participation in work or other community engagement a requirement for continued Medicaid eligibility.” Formerly, federal administrations had never approved state restrictions in Medicaid like work requirements or drug-testing that constrained base eligibility for the program. After expanding Medicaid to all low-income adults in participating states, President Obama’s CMS was particularly stringent about this, approving state waivers that restructured elements of Medicaid programs and even reduced benefits, but never approving a waiver from a state involving work requirements.