WASHINGTON (CNS) — The Supreme Court now has petitions asking it to review lower court rulings in three different lawsuits that challenge the federal government’s requirement for employer-sponsored health insurance to include contraceptive coverage.
Three petitions filed in the last six weeks involve private, for-profit companies owned by Christians who object to their employee insurance funds being used for treatments they consider immoral.
A fourth case related to the Affordable Care Act is Liberty University’s appeal of the “employer mandate” to purchase government-defined health insurance for employees as applied to the Christian university.
The soonest the court might decide to take or deny certiorari in any of the cases would be at its conferences of late November or early December. The court typically holds conferences to review petitions three or four days each month.
The Justice Department Oct. 21 filed three documents weighing in on whether the court should take the cases. The department’s legal opponents now have time to respond to those filings before the cases are put on the justices’ conference list. Meanwhile, organizations and individuals with an interest in the outcome of the cases also may file petitions arguing for or against the Supreme Court becoming involved. As of Oct. 31, a handful of such friend-of-the-court briefs had been filed for some of the petitions. They were filed on behalf of coalitions of employers, physicians, states and faith-based organizations.
The petitions related to the Affordable Care Act that are on appeal to the court and the core issues they raise include:
— Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores: an appeal by the government of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that the owners of Hobby Lobby, a chain of more than 500 arts and crafts stores, could proceed with seeking an injunction to protect it from having to meet parts of the HHS contraceptive mandate for employee health care.
The Green family owns Oklahoma-based Hobby Lobby and Mardel, a chain of 35 Christian bookstores, which also is a party to the lawsuit. The Greens filed a brief agreeing with the Justice Department’s request that the Supreme Court take the case, but arguing that the circuit court was correct in giving their legal challenge a green light to proceed under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The 1993 law, known as RFRA, says that the government “shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” unless that burden is the least restrictive means to further a compelling governmental interest.” The legal question raised in the case is whether RFRA protects a for-profit company from having to provide a benefit to which employees are entitled under federal law but to which the owners have religious objections.
The Greens say they object to that part of the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate requiring they provide emergency contraceptive coverage — such as the morning-after pill or Plan B — saying that violates their religious freedom. The family has no moral objection to covering “preventive contraceptives” and will continue to cover those for employees, they have said.
— Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius: an appeal by the Hahn family of Pennsylvania, the Mennonite owners of a cabinet-making company, Conestoga Wood, of a 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that they had to comply with the contraceptive coverage requirement. The circuit court ruled that as a for-profit, secular corporation, Conestoga Wood and its owners are not protected by the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment.
In its petition for the Supreme Court to review its case, Conestoga Wood argued that the 3rd Circuit’s decision conflicts with rulings by other circuit courts that recognized religious rights of for-profit corporations.
— Autocam Corp. v. Sebelius: an appeal by the Kennedy family, the Catholic owners of Autocam, a Michigan-based manufacturer of automotive and surgical components, of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ denial of their request for an injunction protecting them from having to meet the requirement for contraceptive coverage.
The case also is based on whether Autocam, a for-profit, secular corporation, and the Kennedy family have standing to make a claim under RFRA that the contraceptive mandate violates religious rights and whether the mandate imposes a substantial burden on their Free Exercise rights.
— Liberty University v. Lew: an appeal of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that the Christian university must adhere to the employer mandate part of the Affordable Care Act. When the Supreme Court ruled on the constitutionality of parts of the health care law in 2012, it didn’t address the employer mandate to provide coverage.
Liberty University also argues that the law violates the institution’s rights, and the individual rights of employees, under RFRA and the Free Exercise clause.
In the Justice Department’s filings of Oct. 21, it urged the court to take the Hobby Lobby case and to hold off on considering the Conestoga Wood petition until after Hobby Lobby is resolved. It encouraged the court to deny the Autocam and Liberty University petitions.