Andrea Sturdivant|Monday May 16, 2016
On Monday the Supreme Court failed to reach a clear-cut ruling in one of its biggest cases of the year a protest to a compromise under the Affordable Care Act that allowed certain religious nonprofits to decide out of contraceptive coverage for their employees.
The court’s decision in the case of Zubik v. Burwell, was unidentified, only three pages long, and distributed in the name of the whole court, perhaps highlighting how disruptive the issue was for the justices. The gap was obvious during oral arguments in the case.
“Nothing in this point of view, or in the judgments or orders of the courts below, is to involve the ability of the Government to ensure that women covered by applicant’s health plans obtain, without cost, the full range of FDA accepted contraceptives,” the court said in the decision.
Zubik case reached the Supreme Court as a set of seven reinforce cases— all delivered by Christian academies, colleges and associated nonprofits. The groups challenged a withdraw tool the Obama administration formulated for organizations that otherwise didn’t qualify for automatic exception from the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive coverage stipulation, as churches and chapels do.
To these groups, giving in with this pull out scheme was similar to being conniving in their female employees’ decisions to obtain contraception—- which, coupled with the risk of penalties for refusal, amounted to a difficulty on their faith under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Caught between spiritual objections and the government’s concern in ensuring contraceptive access, the justices issued unusual order, less than a week after hearing the case, informing the Obama administration and the religious groups to reach an understanding.
That all but warn the court was divided on how to rule.
In a decision that appears to divide both ways, the justices seemed to show submission to both the administration’s efforts and the objectors’ faith — likely a result of a court struggling to reach unity after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.
“The Government may not force taxes or penalties on applicants for failure to provide the important notice,” the court declared, referring to the withdraw form that carried about the lawsuit.
Perhaps more severely for the Obama administration, the Supreme Court effectively wiped out all of the government’s prior accomplishments in lower courts — where it had a impeccable streak— and ensured that these cases will be ongoing.
“Given the pressure of the discussion and the substantial explanation and cleansing in the positions of the parties, the parties …should be allowed an opportunity to arrive at an approach going forward that welcomes applicants’ religious exercise while at the same time ensuring that women covered by applicants’ health plans receive sufficient and identical health coverage, including contraceptive coverage,” the court said.
However, the very heart of these cases was left totally unclear, and the Supreme Court tried strong to not tip its grasp as these controversies face a new round of claims.
“The Court asserts no view on the integrity of the cases,” the justices said. “In particular, the Court does not decide whether applicants’ faith exercise has been considerably loaded, whether the Government has a compelling importance or whether the current arrangements are the least confining means of serving that interest.”
Reasonably fearing that the court’s decision might give certain religious employers the ability to stand in the way of their employees’ access to birth control coverage, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote separately to clear-up what Obamacare does — and what it clearly doesn’t do.
“Requiring standalone birth-control method-only coverage would leave in oblivion. Sotomayor wrote, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. “And requiring that women appropriately pulls out into such coverage would force just the kind of roadblock to the delivery of preventive services that Congress wanted to wipe out.”
Moments after the decision, the Supreme Court ruled separately in a number of awaiting cases that depended on the fallout in Zubik—- a string of challenges involving the University of Notre Dame, a Catholic district and other religiously affiliated institutions and ministries.
However, with the main ruling, these cases are expected to continue in lower courts for periods of time, or maybe even years. With no decision in sight, it wouldn’t be surprising if another version of the case arrives at the high court — perhaps by the time there’s a ninth justice established.
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