What just happened?
The Supreme Court avoided issuing a major ruling today in a combined religious liberty case, Zubik v. Burwell. In a unanimous decision, the justices wrote that the Court “expresses no view on the merits of the cases” but were instead sending the case back down to the lower courts for opposing parties to work out a compromise.
What is this case, and what’s it about?
The case, Zubik v. Burwell, combines seven challenges to the Health and Human Services’ (HHS) contraceptive/abortifacient mandate.
To fulfill the requirements of the Affordable Healthcare Act (aka ObamaCare) the federal government passed a regulation (often called the “HHS Mandate”) that attempts to force groups into providing insurance coverage for contraceptives, sterilization, and abortifacients. Some religious groups, such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, objected on the ground that the requirement violates their religious liberty as protected by the First Amendment and the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). HHS offered an accommodation that the Little Sisters found to be insufficient.
The Supreme Court was asked to decide, as SCOTUS Blog explains, whether the government has offered nonprofit religious employers a means to comply and whether the whether HHS satisfies RFRA’s test for overriding sincerely held religious objections in circumstances where HHS itself insists that overriding the religious objection will not fulfill HHS’s regulatory objective—namely, the provision of no-cost contraceptives to the objector’s employees.
Who are Zubik and Burwell?