Closely-held Corporate Christians Win Crusade Against Contraceptive Coverage

The Supreme Court issued a 5-4 ruling in Burwell v Hobby Lobby, holding that closely held corporations cannot be required to provide contraception coverage. The court was asked to determine if the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) (P.L. 103-141) allows a for-profit corporation to deny its employees the health coverage of contraceptives to which the employees are otherwise entitled by federal law, based on the religious objection of the corporation’s owners.  Justice Alito issued the majority opinion, joined by the Chief Justice and Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Kennedy. Justice Kennedy wrote a concurring opinion. Justice Ginsburg wrote a dissent in which she was joined by Justice Sotomayor; she was also joined in part by Justices Breyer and Kagan, who separately issued a dissent.

In 2012, Hobby Lobby, a national craft store chain, filed suit against then-HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and various federal government entities, alleging that the preventive care services provision of the ACA, which requires Hobby Lobby to cover FDA-approved contraception in its employee health plans, violated its rights. Hobby Lobby objected because it considers some forms of contraception to be abortifacients, such as Ella®, Plan B One-Step®, and intrauterine devices, and subsequently argued that the preventive care services provision violated the RFRA, the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, and the Administrative Procedure Act. At the direction of the Tenth Circuit, the district court granted Hobby Lobby a preliminary injunction barring the federal government from enforcing the preventive services provision of the ACA.

The Solicitor General petitioned the Supreme Court to hear the case, and the petition was granted. At that time the case was consolidated with a Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp v Sebelius (now Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v Burwell), which involved a secular for-profit corporation alleging that the mandate violated its shareholders’ Mennonite beliefs. The Third Circuit had upheld the denial of a preliminary injunction in the case.

For a full history of the cases, please click here.

In-depth analysis of this case will be posted later in the week.