The Slatest

SCOTUS Just Opened the Door For Another Obamacare Challenge

David Walls-Kaufman yells outside the U.S. Supreme Court this summer while justices were considering the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act

Photo by Kris Connor/Getty Images.

The Supreme Court has opened the door ever-so-slightly for a new challenge to President Obama’s landmark health care reform law.

The justices today ordered the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to reopen arguments on the employer mandate and contraceptive coverage provisions in the law, a judicial move that—while unlikely—technically could put parts of Obamacare back before the high court sometime at the end of next year.

The particular case in question comes from Liberty University, a religious institution in Virginia that was among those groups that originally challenged the individual mandate at the heart of Obamacare. While that challenge was obviously dismissed, Liberty also challenged the two less-central provisions on the grounds that they violate religious freedom.

The Washington Post on how and why those provisions have so far gone largely unaddressed:

The Liberty University case … is unique in that it was the only one where the appeals court decided it couldn’t even make a ruling, given that the provisions it was supposed to rule on hadn’t come into effect. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Anti-Injunction Act precluded any rulings about the mandate’s constitutionality before the mandate actually took effect and individuals began paying penalties.

The Supreme Court sided against that viewpoint. In its decision, the justices said that it was within the court’s power to rule on the health law now. That leaves Liberty wanting some answers on the provisions it challenged in court.

While the move to rehear arguments is somewhat rare, the Obama administration doesn’t appear to be fretting the outcome, and even agreed that the issues should be reheard by the lower court. One reason for that, Talking Points Memo explains, is that the Fourth Circuit appears all but certain to side with the White House. “Liberty will almost certainly lose again, and the Supreme Court will not hear the case again,” Tim Jost, a Washington and Lee University law professor who supports the Affordable Care Act, told the outlet.