Supreme Court

SCOTUS Avoids Ruling on Obamacare Contraceptive Mandate Accommodation, Orders Lower Courts to Rehear Little Sisters of the Poor and Related Cases

Supreme Court puts off ruling on Obamacare and Religious Freedom Restoration Act.


Credit: Library of Congress

Today the U.S. Supreme Court issued an unsigned opinion in Zubik v. Burwell and the six other consolidated cases that center on the legality of the Obama administration's scheme for granting accommodations to religious institutions that object to providing certain forms of birth control to their employees as required by Obamacare. These cases asked whether the administration's plan violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Today's opinion, however, avoids reaching any answer to that question. As the opinion declares, "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." Instead the Supreme Court has sent Zubik and the other cases, including Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged v. Burwell, back down to the lower courts in the hopes that some sort of compromise might be achieved.

"The parties on remand 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 Court held. "We anticipate that the Courts of Appeal will allow the parties sufficient time to resolve any outstanding issues between them."

In other words, the Supreme Court has punted, leaving the ultimate decision on this issue for a later date.