WASHINGTON (CNS) – The U.S. Supreme Court has remanded two Catholic entities’ legal challenges to the federal contraceptive mandate back to the lower courts.
The high court granted a petition for a writ of certiorari for two plaintiffs – the Catholic Health Care System, an umbrella for four Catholic institutions affiliated with the Archdiocese of New York, and the Michigan Catholic Conference.
With its order, the court vacated the early rulings against the two Catholic plaintiffs by, respectively, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and 6th U.S. Court of Appeals.
The orders follow the court’s unanimous decision May 16 to send the Zubik v. Burwell case back to the lower courts. Zubik is actually a collection of Catholic and other faith-based entities’ challenge of the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive requirement for employers.
In its new orders, the court said that in both the Catholic Health Care System case and the Michigan Catholic Conference case, the “petitioners have made the government aware of their view that they meet ‘the requirements for exemption from the contraceptive coverage requirement on religious grounds.’”
“Nothing in the Zubik opinion, or in the opinions or orders of the courts below, ‘precludes the government from relying on this notice, to the extent it considers it necessary, to facilitate the provision of full contraceptive coverage’ going forward.”
But, the court also said, the “government may not impose taxes or penalties on petitioners for failure ”to provide notice to the government stating their objection to the coverage.
The court heard oral arguments in Zubik v. Burwell March 23. Then six days later, it issued an unusual order seeking additional briefs from the plaintiffs and the federal government about how and if contraceptive insurance cov-erage could be obtained by employees through their insurance companies without directly involving religious employers who object to this coverage.
On April 12, the plaintiffs filed a brief with the court in which they agreed with the proposal that such coverage be provided through an alternative health care plan without involving the religious employers. The government also filed a brief, arguing that it wanted to keep the contraceptive mandate intact, but offered that it would go along with the court’s suggestion despite the possibility that it might not close the door on future legal challenges. The Supreme Court made clear that it was not expressing an opinion on the merits of the cases.