A New Years’ Eve decision by Justice Sonia Sotomayor to grant a request from a group of nuns could open the door to a third challenge to the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, in 2014.
Acting on an emergency appeal from the Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged in Denver, Sotomayor put a temporary hold on a requirement for the nuns to offer birth control and other contraceptive measures as part of the ACA.
The Obama administration is “temporarily enjoined from enforcing against applicants the contraceptive coverage requirements imposed by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” Sotomayor ruled, acting as the Justice responsible for hearing appeals from the 10th Circuit.
The administration has until Friday morning to respond to the action. And the ruling just applies to the Little Sisters case.
The ACA allows churches and other religious organizations to forgo offering contraceptive coverage to employees. But the Little Sisters are considered a religious-affiliated group, in the same category as religious-affiliated hospitals, schools, and social service groups.
The Justice Department said the Little Sisters could appeal to their health plan administrator, using a self-certification form that would allow them to avoid paying for part of the insurance they object to.
But the Little Sisters’ health plan insurers and administers would then pay for contraceptive coverage that would be offered to the Little Sisters’ employees.
And if the Little Sisters didn’t sign the opt-out form, the group would face significant fines under the ACA’s provisions.
That led to a legal appeal that was supported by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
”We are delighted that the Supreme Court has issued this order protecting the Little Sisters,” said Mark Rienzi, Senior Counsel for the Becket Fund. “The government has lots of ways to deliver contraceptives to people–it doesn’t need to force nuns to participate.”
For now, the Court could consider three other similar appeals, says SCOTUSblog, and it may consolidate the appeals at a conference where the full Court would consider action.
The Court has already agreed to hear two cases this year about the contraceptive mandate.
In late November 2013, the Justices accepted two challenges to Obamacare that question the government’s ability to compel for-profit companies with religious convictions to pay for birth-control coverage.
In Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. , the national hobby and crafts chain store petitioned the Court to take on the birth control mandate that applies to for-profit companies. The Obama administration also has asked the Court to take up the Hobby Lobby case.
In the Conestoga Wood case, a Mennonite family-owned, profit-making business claims that the ACA’s birth control mandate violates the company’s rights under the First Amendment free exercise clause and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
If the Justices decide to take on a third challenge, in a case of the Little Sisters (and similar organizations), it would be focused on the issue of universities, hospitals and groups with religious ties- an act that would broaden the challenge to Obamacare.
Recent Constitution Daily Stories