Supreme Court Asked to Review Next Set of Affordable Care Act Challenges

The Obama administration filed three documents with the Supreme Court on Monday in response to various Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) (P.L. 111-148) petitions, making it very likely the Supreme Court will hear at least one new case against the law during this next term. Two of the responses focused on the birth control mandate, asking the court to hold back on its review of the Conestoga Wood case until a decision is made in the Hobby Lobby case. And on another side of PPACA, the Obama administration has asked the Supreme Court to deny review of Liberty University’s challenge to the individual and employer mandates in the Affordable Care Act, maintaining that no conflict exists with any of the issues raised in that petition. These filings complete the government’s responses to PPACA cases currently in front of the Supreme Court.

Birth Control Mandate

The Hobby Lobby case offers two very different views on the birth control mandate and freedom of religion. According to Hobby Lobby’s attorneys, PPACA violates the religious freedom of business owners that object to contraception. Because it is a Christian-owned chain, Hobby Lobby argued it shouldn’t be required to include drugs they object to in their employee health plans. The owners stated that they believe human life begins at conception, and thus, on the basis of their religious beliefs decided to exclude contraceptives that prevented the implantation of a fertilized egg, such as intrauterine devices (IUDs), Plan B, and Ella. They argued that this requirement violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) (P.L. 103-141), which provides that the government “shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” unless it is the least restrictive means to further a compelling government interest, and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. The Tenth Circuit agreed with Hobby Lobby’s owners.

The government disagreed and requested review, claiming in part that the Tenth Circuit’s holding conflicts with recent decisions of other appeals courts, and that the companies are not entitled to raise individual rights to raise religious exemptions when they chose to create a corporate entity. At the end of September, the U.S. government filed a Petition of a Writ of Certiorari with the Supreme Court for the case of Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. v Sebelius. The government argued that a secular company should not have the ability to impose the religious beliefs of the owners on its employees. According to the government, the mandate was created to ensure that most working women have access to free birth control through their employer-provided healthcare plans.

To date, the Supreme Court has three petitions on this constitutional issue dividing the federal appeals courts, and more are expected to be filed soon. The Hobby Lobby case (Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, 13-354) from the Tenth Circuit and a case from the Third Circuit (Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius, 13-356) may be ready for court review as early as next month. The third case (Autocam Corp. v. Sebelius, 13-482), from the Sixth Circuit was just filed last week. In Monday’s filing, the government asked the court not to take the Autocam case and to put off Conestoga until it reached a decision in Hobby Lobby.

Individual and Employer Mandate Challenge

Liberty University has also filed a petition for review in the Supreme Court focusing on the individual and employer mandates to provide health insurance coverage. Liberty University and several individuals originally filed a complaint against the Secretary of the Treasury and other officials (collectively, the Secretary) seeking a declaration that the individual and employer mandates are invalid. They alleged that the mandates exceeded Congress’s Article I powers and violated the Tenth Amendment, the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment, RFRA, the right to free speech and free association under the First Amendment, the Article I, Section 9 prohibition against unapportioned capitation or direct taxes, and the Guarantee Clause. A prior petition by Liberty was already denied a hearing by the high court, then referred to a lower court for hearing in the wake of the Supreme Court’s major Obamacare decisions in 2012.