Little Sisters of the Poor secure major win as Supreme Court favors religious freedom over Obamacare mandate
The mandate required religious groups to provide contraceptives as part of the health insurance policies they gave to employees
The Little Sisters of the Poor have secured yet another victory in their years-long battle against the contraceptive mandate in Obamacare. The Supreme Court voted 7-2 to uphold a Trump administration regulation protecting religious liberty and sent the Little Sisters' case back down to lower courts to complete adjudication, Breitbart reported.
The fight began seven years ago when Obamacare came into effect in 2013. The Obama administration, at the time, required religious groups to provide contraceptives as part of the health insurance policies they gave to employees. The mandate was challenged by the Little Sisters of the Poor, a charitable organization that helps impoverished elderly people. The Supreme Court remanded the case back to the lower courts in 2016.
President Donald Trump issued an executive order in 2017 requiring the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to formulate new rules to protect religious groups like Little Sisters of the Poor from being forced to comply with mandates that violated their faith. However, the Trump administration's new rule faced major pushback from Democrats, who sued to block it and won a nationwide injunction against it. The nuns were, as a result, forced back to the Supreme Court.
The court has now found that the HHS has the authority to devise new regulations protecting religious faith, and has therefore canceled the nationwide injunction. "For over 150 years, the Little Sisters have engaged in faithful service and sacrifice, motivated by a religious calling to surrender all for the sake of their brother," Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in his decision.
“[T]hey commit to constantly living out a witness that proclaims the unique, inviolable dignity of every person, particularly those whom others regard as weak or worthless," he continued. "But for the past seven years, they—like many other religious objectors who have participated in the litigation and rulemakings leading up to today’s decision— have had to fight for the ability to continue in their noble work without violating their sincerely held religious beliefs."
The Associate SCOTUS Justice noted how the federal government had finally arrived at a solution after two decisions from the court and a number of failed regulatory attempts, finally exempting the Little Sisters from the administratively imposed contraceptive mandate.
"We hold today that the Departments had the statutory authority to craft that exemption, as well as the contemporaneously issued moral exemption," he concluded. "We further hold that the rules promulgating these exemptions are free from procedural defects."
Justice Samuel Alito wrote in a concurring opinion that the HHS rule was also compelled by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).
“I would hold not only that it was appropriate for the Departments to consider RFRA, but also that the Departments were required by RFRA to create the religious exemption (or something very close to it). I would bring the Little Sisters’ legal odyssey to an end," he said.
In another concurring decision, Justice Elena Kagan noted that more litigation was required to determine whether the HHS regulation was “arbitrary and capricious," something that the lower courts had failed to decide. Meanwhile, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Justice Sonia Sotomayor complained in their dissent that the "Court casts totally aside countervailing rights and interests in its zeal to secure religious rights to the nth degree."
“[T]his Court leaves women workers to fend for themselves, to seek contraceptive coverage from sources other than their employer’s insurer, and, absent another available source of funding, to pay for contraceptive services out of their own pockets," they added.