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Contraceptives mandate left intact, for now

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor refused on Wednesday afternoon to block enforcement of the new federal health care law’s mandate that profit-making companies begin providing free birth-control drugs and methods for their women workers, beginning next week.  In a four-page opinion, Sotomayor ruled that an Oklahoma City family and its religion-oriented businesses did not qualify for a Court order against the mandate while its court challenge goes forward.

This marked the first time that the Supreme Court has been drawn into a nationwide controversy over the contraceptives mandate.  More than forty lawsuits have been filed against that requirement by non-profit religious schools, colleges, and hospitals, and by religion-oriented, profit-making companies.   Justice Sotomayor, noting that the lower courts that have ruled so far on pleas for emergency court orders have reached mixed results, concluded that the Hobby Lobby family’s right to an injunction could not meet the rigorous standard that it be “indisputably clear.”   (The Hobby Lobby challenge was discussed in this post.)

The kind of remedy the Hobby Lobby and its owners had sought — an injunction pending appeal — can only be issued if it is necessary to protect the Supreme Court’s authority to rule ultimately on the constitutional challenge, or if the challengers’ right to such a remedy is clear without a doubt, Justice Sotomayor noted.  She stressed that she was not ruling on whether the constitutional challenge ultimately would succeed, and noted that the Court had not previously ruled on whether constitutional or other legal protection for religious rights is available for closely held, for-profit corporations and their controlling shareholder when they object as an expression of their faith to mandatory employee benefits.

Hobby Lobby, an arts and crafts retail chain, and a related chain of Christian bookstores, Mardel, Inc., have argued that they will face heavy fines, perhaps reaching $1.3 million for each day they fail to obey the contraceptives mandate.  Sotomayor noted that claim, but ruled that it was not sufficient to satisfy the requirements for an injunction.  Even without such an order, the Justice wrote, the challengers may continue with their legal claims in the lower courts and seek Supreme Court review later, if they wish.

A federal judge in Oklahoma and the Tenth Circuit Court based in Denver had previously refused the challengers’ requests to bar enforcement of the mandate.

Recommended Citation: Lyle Denniston, Contraceptives mandate left intact, for now, SCOTUSblog (Dec. 26, 2012, 5:38 PM),