Setting up another constitutional showdown over the Affordable Care Act, the Supreme Court announced Tuesday it will hear two cases challenging, on religious grounds, the requirement that most employers provide health insurance coverage for contraception including so-called “morning after” methods.
The court will likely hear arguments in the consolidated cases Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius in late March, with a decision by the end of June. They are among dozens of cases filed around the country by employers who say their free exercise of religion is violated by the requirement.
The justices met this morning in their private conference at which they consider pending petitions for possible review. It is not uncommon for the court to announce the cases it has granted right after the conference, rather than waiting for its regular Monday orders list. A quick announcement gives the lawyers more time to prepare.
Hobby Lobby is an Oklahoma-based chain of art and craft supply stores whose founder David Green operates the stores “in a manner consistent with Biblical principles,” according to its mission statement. Mardel Inc., a chain of Christian bookstores is a second party to the case and is also owned by the Green family. Conestoga Wood Specialties is a Mennonite furniture company from Pennsylvania.
In challenging the law, Hobby Lobby invoked the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA,) which says the government “shall not substantially burden a person’s religious exercise” unless the burden can be justified under a “strict scrutiny” standard.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit sided with the employers, finding that RFRA protects corporations as well as individuals, and that the requirement substantially burdens their religious rights.
In the Mennonite case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit upheld the requirement to provide coverage. The conflict among circuits made high court review likely. More coverage later on the Supreme Court Brief, NLJ’s newsletter on the high court.