SCOTUS keeps injunction in place in Little Sisters until the 10th Circuit rules on the merits

Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued a temporary injunction on New Years' Eve in the case of Little Sisters of the Poor v. Sebelius, to an objection by an order of Catholic nuns who minister to the elderly that they do not want to sign EBSA Form 700 claiming an exemption for a religious organization, which would allow their employee health insurance provider to provide contraception coverage under the ACA "contraception mandate" to their employees.

The Little Sisters' health plan administrator, Christian Brothers Employee Benefit Trust, also objected to the “contraceptive mandate” and said it would not incorporate it in the Little Sisters plan. Federal law exempts “church plans” from the ACA mandate, so there will be no contraception coverage in the health care plan.

The Little Sisters are objecting to completing paperwork.

The theory goes that even filing the EBSA Form 700 would make the Little Sisters a part of the scheme, and thus draw them into support for abortions or abortion-related services. (Somehow they equate contraception with abortion; not all contraception is an aborticide). It is an absolutist extreme position.

It is an extreme position not shared by American Catholics. Most American Catholics don’t consider birth control to be a threat to their religious belief. In fact, 82 percent of Catholics say contraception is “morally acceptable,” according to a Gallup poll from May 2012. Catholic support for birth control is a mere 8 points below the 90 percent of non-Catholic Americans who have no moral objections to birth control.

The U.S. Supeme Court issued an order today keeping the injunction in place in Little Sisters of the Poor v. Sebelius, until the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals can rule on the merits of the case. Lyle Denniston at reports, Partial win for Little Sisters:

The Supreme Court on Friday afternoon gave an order of Roman Catholic nuns some added protection against the enforcement of a part of the Affordable Care Act, and spared them — for now — from having to file a government form in order to be exempt. The order (.pdf), released after weeks of uncertainty, came without noted dissent in the case of Little Sisters of the Poor v. Sebelius (application 13A691).

The bar to enforcement of the so-called “contraceptive mandate” against two groups of the Little Sisters order will remain in effect while their challenge unfolds and reaches a final decision before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, based in Denver.  The Court’s order stressed that it was not ruling on the merits of that challenge.

Lawyers for the Little Sisters have been seeking protection for some 400 other Roman Catholic groups, and they asked the Court to assure that all would be shielded.  Lower courts, however, have not approved the case as a class lawsuit, so it appeared that each group seeking similar protection would have to seek it individually; the government has said it would not object if others made such pleas.  The Court did not mention that aspect of the controversy [in its order].

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The Justices’ order does require the Little Sisters to tell the government, in writing, that they are non-profit groups “that hold themselves out as religious and have religious objections to providing coverage for contraceptive services.”  That was a procedural wrinkle that the Court itself invented, outside the rules laid down by the government.

If the Little Sisters do make that substitute kind of notification, then the government, under the order, is barred from enforcing the mandate against them.   At no point in the case as it moves forward, the order stressed, are the Little Sisters required to file Form 700 with the government, or to send copies of it to the separate entity that operates their employee health benefit plan.

The final sentence of the Justices order reads:  “The Court issues this order based on all of the circumstances of the case, and this order should not be construed as an expression of the Court’s view on the merits.”

The final order gave no indication of why the Court had not acted on it sooner — a weeks-long delay that is very unusual for such an application for temporary legal relief.

The two groups of the Little Sisters order, in Denver and Baltimore, have an employee benefit plan that would be covered by the “contraceptive mandate” if they did not qualify for an exemption.  The government says that they do qualify, but only if they file an EBSA Form 700 and pass on copies to the health plan administrator, Christian Brothers Employee Benefit Trust.

The Christian Brothers entity itself has made clear that it, too, objects to the “contraceptive mandate” and would not incorporate it in the Little Sisters plan.  And, the government told the Court, the Christian Brothers would not have to do that, because another federal law exempts “church plans” from the ACA mandate.

[In other words, there will be no contraception coverage in the health care plan. There is no "harm" to these Catholic organizations, so it is not clear to me what "harm" is being enjoined by the court. Again, It is an absolutist extreme position.]

Even so, the Little Sisters, in urging the Court to give them formal legal shelter from the mandate, had argued that they did not want any part in the scheme — not filing Form 700 and not passing it on to Christian Brothers.  That is exactly what they won — temporarily — in Friday’s order from the Supreme Court.

Of course, they still have to persuade the Tenth Circuit, in their appeal there, that the mandate’s obligations are an unconstitutional intrusion on their religious beliefs.

* * *

Only religious organizations have any legal right, under the ACA, to be exempt from the mandate.  That is why profit-making business firms, with religiously devout owners, are making their own challenge to the mandate.  Their challenge comes before the Court in an oral argument scheduled for March 25 in a pair of consolidated cases (13-354 and 13-356) — one petition by the government, and one by a profit-making company.

One response to “SCOTUS keeps injunction in place in Little Sisters until the 10th Circuit rules on the merits

  1. “Little sisters? Are they short or young? Why are they the little sisters, but on the other side of the gender gap are their insurers, just regular “brothers.” Says something about women, doesn’t it?

    Anyway, much ado about nothing, but once again, others trying to impose their medieval religious beliefs on all of us.