The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday granted a Chicago-area private college a rare emergency injunction in an ongoing contraception-mandate case, drawing a stern rebuke from Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
The court's majority granted nonprofit Wheaton (Ill.) College permission not to sign a form indicating that it objects to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' rule mandating insurance plans provide no-cost coverage for contraceptive services for women.
The form, if signed, would grant the college a waiver from having to follow the rule since the college has religious objections to contraception. But the college insists that even signing the form allowing a third-party administrator to provide and pay for the coverage would also violate its religious rights.
The merits of Wheaton's case have not yet been heard in a court; all of the rulings so far are based on pre-trial motions.
In a 16-page dissent to the Supreme Court's two-page order, Justice Sotomayor was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Elena Kagan in saying that the court was essentially micromanaging the HHS and re-writing its regulations for unknown and unjustifiable reasons: “It is not the business of this court to ensnare itself in the government's ministerial handling of its affairs in the manner it does here.”
The dissenters said the court's majority had contradicted itself in less than a week's time.
On Monday, the court ruled in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores that family-owned for-profit companies with religious objections did not have to follow the contraception-coverage mandate because the government could have, but did not, offer them the same accommodation granted to nonprofits like Wheaton.
Yet in Thursday's order, the dissenters said the majority was indicating that the same process they blessed on Monday might not be valid protection for the four dozen or so nonprofits who are suing under the same legal theories as Wheaton.
Justice Sotomayor noted that Wheaton's claim is likely to fail should it ever reach the Supreme Court, because it's far from clear that signing a form to assign insurance duties to a third party is a “substantial burden” to the free exercise of religion.
Joe Carlson writes for Modern Healthcare, a sister publication of Business Insurance.