Supreme Court Extends Order in ‘Little Sisters’ Contraception Mandate Case

Read more of our coverage on the Little Sisters of the Poor case here.

On Friday afternoon, the Supreme Court extended an injunction granted to the Little Sisters of the Poor that shields the religious nonprofit and its affiliates from having to fill out paperwork in order to be exempt from the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act.

The unsigned order, issued without opinion or dissent, was released after weeks of silence from the Roberts Court after Justice Sonia Sotomayor granted an emergency request to block enforcement of the mandate against the group late New Year’s Eve. Justice Sotomayor had referred the request to the entire Court for consideration following that initial injunction, which resulted in Friday’s extension of that injunction.

The order means that the Little Sisters of the Poor will not have to comply with the contraception mandate while their constitutional challenge to the mandate proceeds before the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.

The justices’ order does not require the Little Sisters to fill out EBSA 700, the form that religiously affiliated nonprofits must complete to claim an exemption to the contraception mandate. But it does require the Little Sisters to tell the government, in writing, that the group is a nonprofit and that they “hold themselves out as religious and have religious objection to providing coverage for contraception services.” Assuming the Little Sisters do provide that substitute notification, then, according to the order, the Obama administration is prevented from enforcing the mandate against them.

While the order offers some relief for the Little Sisters, the Court stressed that it should not be considered a ruling on the merits, closing its order with:

This order should not be construed as an expression of the Court’s views on the merits.

The Little Sisters is one in over 100 lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the contraception mandate. In March, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in two of those challenges and consider whether secular, for-profit corporations have religious rights that are violated by complying with the mandate.

Sharon Levin, director of federal reproductive health policy at the National Women’s Law Center, said in a statement, “Although the Center is disappointed in this temporary order, the Court emphasized that the order ‘should not be construed as an expression of the Court’s views on the merits.’ We are confident once the merits in this case are fully considered by the 10th Circuit, that it will once again uphold the birth control regulations as it did in December.”

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  • Doug Indeap

    The Little Sisters are being used as a tool by those opposing the ACA. In their suit, they seek not liberty for themselves (the law affords them that), but rather influence over their employees by exempting not only themselves but also everyone else from any requirement to provide their employees the contraceptive coverage the nuns oppose. The nuns’ freedom of religion has not been abridged—not in the least. They are not compelled to do anything that violates their consciences —unless we are to suppose that simply living in a society that does not conform to their beliefs violates their consciences.

    The Little Sisters are exempt from the law’s requirements and need only file a form saying so. How does that possibly infringe their religious freedom or compel them to violate their consciences? Their lawyer’s argument that the form “authorizes” others to provide the coverage the nuns oppose is clever, but specious. The form merely
    certifies that the nuns are exempt; that’s it. The standing requirements of the law–and not some paper signed by the nuns–is what then provides coverage to the nuns’ employees by other means.

    Their beef, it appears, is not that they must do anything to provide contraceptive coverage, but rather that the law requires others to do so. Too bad if that bothers them, but society has fully accommodated them by exempting them of any requirement under the law other than filling out a form to claim their exemption–hardly a substantial burden.
    To accommodate their beliefs, society need not also allow them to dictate what the law may require of others and thus enable the nuns to thwart the law’s purpose. They seek not to free themselves of doing something contrary to their consciences (the law accommodates them in that regard), but rather to interfere with their employees’ insurance coverage by precluding others from providing the coverage the nuns don’t