In a surprise move, the Supreme Court today remanded a challenge by faith-based employers to ObamaCare’s contraception mandate. In other words, SCOTUS declined to rule on the merits of the challenge — and instead have punted this matter, rooted in religious freedom, back to the lower courts.
Via Fox News:
The Supreme Court punted Monday on a challenge by religious-affiliated employers to ObamaCare’s contraception mandate, sending the dispute back to the lower courts.
The justices had been considering whether religious-affiliated institutions like the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic charity of nuns, can be exempt from having to pay for — or indirectly allow — birth control and other reproductive coverage in their health plans.
But the court did not rule on the merits. Instead, the justices sent the cases back to the appeals courts to make new decisions based on recent statements.“The Court expresses no view on the merits of the cases,” the decision said. “In particular, the Court does not decide whether petitioners’ religious exercise has been substantially burdened, whether the Government has a compelling interest, or whether the current regulations are the least restrictive means of serving that interest.”
The decision ducks, for now, a high-profile dispute before the Supreme Court at the height of an election year — at a time when the court is dealing with a vacancy following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.
The high court two years ago said the Little Sisters and its third-party insurance administrator could remain temporarily exempt from the mandates, while lower courts continued to wrangle with the merits of the primary challenge to the federal health law provisions on contraception.
After ObamaCare was passed in 2010, the White House negotiated what it called a compromise aimed at allowing the medical coverage but also providing an administrative workaround for those opposing it. The central dispute revolves around a requirement these groups self-certify — and sign a form authorizing an outside administrator to provide contraceptives without the employers’ direct involvement.
Essentially, this is now headed back to the lower courts who previously didn’t provide relief to the faith-based organizations seeking it — hence, their move to the Supreme Court in the first place. Yes, SCOTUS has issued new guidelines and suggesting a “compromise.” But does anyone else find what amounts to an election-year deferral by the highest court, on an issue tied up in our First Freedom, curious?
[Note: This article was written by Michelle Jesse, Associate Editor]