A good month for Obamacare ended poorly late Tuesday night when Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor temporarily blocked the ACA’s contraceptive mandate for certain religious groups. Sotomayor issued the order in response to a request by the Little Sisters of the Poor, as well as other Catholic nonprofits that use a religious health plan, and it applies only to those organizations. The Obama administration must respond by Friday morning.
The stay does not necessarily foretell an ultimate victory by the religious groups challenging the law, and the justices have not yet agreed to hear the groups’ challenge in court. This case, in fact, is really quite different from the challenges that the justices will hear in March. Those cases revolve around the question of the “religious beliefs” of secular corporations; this one pertains exclusively to religious organizations—who can already opt out of the contraceptive mandate. The Justice Department stated as much in fighting the stay:
The Obama administration had argued that the Little Sisters of the Poor could opt out of the contraceptive coverage requirement by completing “a self-certification form” and providing it to the entity that administers their health benefits. Therefore, the Justice Department said, the contraceptive mandate imposes “no substantial burden on their exercise of religion.”
“To opt out of providing contraceptive coverage, Little Sisters need only certify that they are nonprofit organizations that hold themselves out as religious and that, because of religious objections, they are opposed to providing coverage for some or all contraceptive services,” the Justice Department told the appeals court on Monday.
But this argument was not enough to satisfy Sotomayor, who may have also been moved by the urgency of the request: Had she denied the stay, the Catholic groups behind the lawsuit would have had to start providing contraceptive care on Wednesday, or face serious fines.
After granting the stay, Sotomayor darted over to Times Square, where she oversaw the annual New Year’s Eve ball drop.