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Briefing schedule set for birth control cases

The Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered two sets of briefs by challengers for its review of the seven cases contesting the Affordable Care Act’s birth control mandate.  Under the schedule, final filings are due March 11; oral argument is expected in one of the two final weeks of March.  The briefing order is here.  The Court accepted the proposal of the lawyers involved.

The first round of two briefs by the challengers, allotted 20,000 words each, are due by January 4.  The federal government will answer both with a single consolidated brief of 22,500 words, due February 10.  The two reply briefs, of 8,000 words each, are due March 11.

In granting review of the seven cases on November 6, the Court consolidated them but left it up to the lawyers to decide how to cut down the briefs, rather than have lawyers in each of the seven cases filing opening and reply briefs.

The Court will be reviewing one overall question in these cases: does the ACA’s birth control mandate violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act for religious non-profit schools, colleges, hospitals, and charities that have objections based on their faith, and does the government arrangement for exemptions cure any problem under the Act?  The Court, in one case, also accepted a second question: can the mandate be enforced when the non-profit has a health coverage plan that does not have a mandatory duty to obey the mandate?  That is the additional question in Little Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell.  The Little Sisters petition had also sought to raise a constitutional issue, but the Court did not grant review of that.

The briefing order consolidates three cases for one brief:  Zubik v. Burwell, Priests for Life v. Department of Health & Human Services, and Roman Catholic Archbishop of D.C. v. Burwell.  It consolidates the other four cases for the second brief: the Little Sisters case plus East Texas Baptist University v. Burwell, Southern Nazarene University v. Burwell, and Geneva College v. Burwell.

It is not clear how the lawyers chose to split up the cases in that way.  The groupings include cases that reached the Court from different federal appeals courts and involve different kinds of non-profits.

The Court has not yet decided how much time to allow for oral argument.  That will be determined later.

Recommended Citation: Lyle Denniston, Briefing schedule set for birth control cases, SCOTUSblog (Nov. 17, 2015, 5:01 PM),