By Hadley Heath
Today the Supreme Court announced that it will hear two cases that challenge the HHS mandate that employers provide insurance coverage for all FDA-approved contraceptives.
The cases are Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp v. Sebelius.
In the Hobby Lobby case, the government is now the challenger. The arts-and-crafts giant won at the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals this summer. This case is perhaps the most well-known of any of the HHS mandate cases: The Green family, who owns Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., says that providing coverage for a handful of treatments included in the mandate (including the "morning-after" and "week-after" pills) would be a violation of their evangelical Christian religious beliefs. Their case centers largely around protections under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993.
The Conestoga Wood plaintiffs have taken a different road to SCOTUS, but the basic storyline is the same. The Hahn family, who practice the Mennonite faith, own a cabinet-making business. Their case lost at the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, and centers not just on RFRA but also First Amendment rights. If you haven't been following this case as closely, here's a short video from Alliance Defending Freedom, the watchdog group that is litigating the case:
As attorney Matt Bowman said in this clip, this case is about more than birth control or drugs that may induce abortions. These cases - both the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga cases - are about the broader questions of religious rights in the context of doing business.
For the law nerds, here's a good explanation from Lyle Dennison at SCOTUSblog:
It is already clear, of course, that individuals — whether they own businesses or not — do have religious beliefs that the government may not try to regulate. But it is not yet clear, and these cases will test the issue, whether they have a right — constitutional or based on a 1993 federal law — to rely upon those beliefs in refusing to provide a kind of health care coverage that they say violates the tenets of their faith
On the other hand, it is not clear that a business that is formed as a corporation, and engages in a strictly commercial kind of activity, can have religious beliefs and can actually base its commercial actions upon such faith principles (separate from the religious beliefs of its owners). The Court has never ruled on that issue, but that is one of the core issues it has now agreed to consider.
In the government case — that is, the one involving the arts and crafts retailer, Hobby Lobby — the answer to questions about both the individual owners of a closely held business and the business itself as a separate entity arises under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. That law specifies that the government cannot impose a “substantial burden on a person’s exercise of religion,” unless the government can prove that the burden serves “a compelling governmental interest” and that it is also “the least restrictive means” of doing that.
There is no doubt that the individual owners are persons. But the Court must decide whether the pregnancy-related insurance coverage does, in fact, put a burden on the individual owners, or whether any burden is on the business itself, rather than its owners. That is the issue so far as individual owners’ claim under RFRA goes.
But Tuesday’s order granting review did not stop with the government case, and it did not stop with the RFRA issues. By also agreeing to review the plea by a Pennsylvania company that makes wooden cabinets (Conestoga Wood Specialties), and its Mennonite family owners, the Court expanded considerably the scope of its review. That case, in addition to the RFRA issues, also raises issues under the First Amendment’s guarantee of a right to freely exercise one’s religion.
The issue before the Court is whether the business itself is capable of “exercising” religion. If it is not, that would imperil, but perhaps not destroy altogether, its First Amendment claim. The Court might also have to decide whether, even if a profit-making firm does not exercise religion on its own, it can exercise the religious preferences of its owners — that is, by what lawyers call a “pass through” theory, with the owners’ religious views passing through to the corporation they have created.
These cases will most likely be heard in March, with the Court planning to dedicate one hour of oral argument to each. The Court will rule in summer 2014.
By Hadley Heath
Somewhere on the list of the more than 200 plaintiffs challenging ObamaCare's HHS mandate are the Gilardi brothers, owners of Freshway Foods, a produce company in Ohio.
The Catholic businessmen filed suit because the provision of insurance coverage for contraception and sterilization (required by ObamaCare) violates their religious beliefs. A lower court ruled against them, but the DC Court of Appeals reversed that ruling. Importantly, Judge Janice Rogers Brown wrote the following in response the the government's argument about women's right to abortion:
It is clear the government has failed to demonstrate how such a right — whether described as noninterference, privacy, or autonomy — can extend to the compelled subsidization of a woman’s procreative practices.
You can read more at Life News.
This is not the first case to reach a ruling at the appellate level. The Hobby Lobby won an injunction in the 10th Circuit, which the DOJ is appealing to SCOTUS. Conestoga Wood (6th Circuit), and Autocam (3rd Circuit) have also submitted Cert Petitions seeking reversals of their appellate rulings. The Gilardi case adds yet another appellate ruling to the split-circuit mix, creating even more pressure for SCOTUS to take up the issue.
By Hadley Heath
This Halloween, ObamaCare faced the specter of King v. Sebelius, a case in a federal district court in Richmond (Virginia's eastern district). This case is one of those challenging the IRS rule dispensing federal subsidies to federally operated exchanges.
The outcome? Plaintiffs were unable to secure a preliminary injunction, but Judge James Spencer ruled that the case will go forward. He will hear the case on its merits after parties submit their briefs Dec. 6.
By Hadley Heath
A federal judge in DC announced today he would not dismiss Halbig v. Sebelius. The Wall Street Journal reports:
U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman in Washington, in an oral ruling from the bench, rejected several Justice Department arguments on why the legal challenge should be tossed out of court.
The judge was expected to rule later Tuesday on whether to temporarily block the subsidies while the case continues.
Read more about this case and others challenging the IRS rule here.
Stay tuned for an update to this blog this afternoon with information about the court's ruling on the plaintiff's request for a preliminary injunction.
UPDATE: This afternoon, Judge Paul Friedman ruled against the plaintiff's preliminary injunction, meaning insurance subsidies and tax credits will go forward (even in states that opted out of creating an exchange) while the case is decided on the merits. Read more here.
UPDATE: Don't miss this great analysis from Cato's Michael Cannon: An update on Halbig, and other lawsuits that could make the decrepit HealthCare.gov look like a hiccup
By Hadley Heath
Today a federal court in the District of Columbia heard oral arguments in Halbig v. Sebelius, one of the cases challenging the IRS rule that extends federal subsidies to federally-established exchanges. The court will issue an opinion tomorrow on whether Plaintiffs will be granted a preliminary injunction.
The Competitive Enterprise Institute, who is assisting in the coordination and funding of this lawsuit, has made all of the court documents available online. Long story short, plaintiffs filed for summary judgment in June, which the government opposed. The government (defendant) moved to dismiss the case, and the plaintiffs filed for a preliminary injunction.
If plaintiffs are granted an injunction tomorrow, this will be a significant victory for plaintiffs in Halbig and similar cases (Pruitt, King, Indiana) who are challenging the IRS rule.