The Supreme Court, in a unanimous and unsigned opinion, sent a highly touted case having to do with the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) back to the lower courts, urging both sides to work out a compromise.
The case, Zubik v. Burwell, centered on a controversial portion of the Affordable Care Act, which mandates that private organizations provide contraceptives to their employees without charge. But a host of religious organizations, most notably the Roman Catholic group Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged, which cares for the impoverished elderly, petitioned the Supreme Court to hear their case, arguing that the mandate stifles their religious freedom.
In Zubik v. Burwell, re ACA contraceptive mandate, Court remands lower-court judgments for further proceedings.— SCOTUSblog (@SCOTUSblog) May 16, 2016
“The court expresses no view on the merits of the case,” the Justices wrote, according to the Denver Post.
Attorneys for Little Sisters of the Poor declared victory.
“We think that this is a great day for the Little Sisters,” Adele Keim, a lawyer who represented the Sisters before the Supreme Court, told the Post. “All along, all they’ve wanted is to continue their service to the elderly and poor.”
The Little Sisters and other religious named in the case, including Southern Nazarene University and Geneva College, declared victory because the case was vacated, which means that the Supreme Court did not uphold the ruling of the previous court that heard the case and sided with the Obama administration. If they had upheld the lower court ruling, or if the Justices sent down a 4-4 decision (there are currently only eight Supreme Court Justices since the death of Antonin Scalia in February), then the contraceptives mandate would have stood.
As David French, a lawyer who has argued cases in federal courts wrote in National Review, “Speaking as a person who’s argued a few cases in courts of appeal — when the court vacates the ruling you’re challenging, that’s a win.”
.@ShannonBream: “The Little Sisters of the Poor Order is facing up to $70 million a year in fines if it ultimately loses this legal fight.”— Fox News (@FoxNews) May 16, 2016
In their decision, the Court wrote that, “Given the gravity of the dispute,” both parties “should be afforded an opportunity to arrive at an approach going forward that accommodates petitioners’ religious exercise while at the same time ensuring that women covered by petitioners’ health plans ‘receive full and equal health coverage, including contraceptive coverage.'”
The Supreme Court Justices also stated that the federal government “may not impose taxes or penalties” upon those who have conscientious objections to the coverage.
There is one thing that both sides agree, however: the battle is not over.
“Unfortunately, a growing portion of society regards religion as a collection of irrational beliefs,” columnist William McGurn wrote in the Wall Street Journal. “They simply cannot fathom why folks with such beliefs ought to be exempt from laws that seem obvious to them and that everyone else is expected to obey.”
“In short, the Obama administration’s goal was not just getting contraceptives to women. It was also to do so in a way designed to force religious groups such as the Little Sisters to cry ‘uncle.'”
In their statement on Zubik, NARAL Pro-Choice America wrote, “In punting today, the Supreme Court only forces women and families to wait longer to learn who in this country has the ‘right’ to interfere with a woman’s personal health care decisions. Is it her boss, or is it her decision alone?”
What do you think of the Supreme Court’s decision? Does the federal government have the right to force private institutions to go against their conscience, or are contraceptives a “fundamental right” that should be provided by employers?
[Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images]