SCOTUS Ruled 7-2 for Catholic Charity, Trump Administration in Religious Freedom Case
Washington, D.C. (PPD) — The U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) ruled 7-2 in favor of the Little Sisters of the Poor on Wednesday, finding employers may be exempt from the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act (ACA), better known as ObamaCare, if they object due to religious or moral values. The ruling is a major victory for religious freedom.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.AMENDMENT I, Constitution of the United States of America 1789
The Trump Administration allowed exemptions for religious-affiliated groups and some for-profit companies. The Catholic charity, which cares for the elderly, was involved with two related disputes against the state of Pennsylvania, and sued. Lower court rulings issued a nationwide injunction putting the exemptions on hold.
“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 for the majority opinion. “But for the past seven years, they — like many other religious objectors who have participated in the litigation and rule-makings 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.”
Justice Thomas was joined in his judgment by all the justices except for the Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, both of whom are extremely liberal. There were two concurring opinions, one written by Justice Samuel Alito and joined by Justice Neil Gorsuch, and another written by Justice Elena Kagan and joined by Justice Stephen Breyer.
“We hold today that the Departments had the statutory authority to craft that exemption, as well as the contemporaneously issued moral exemption,” Justice Thomas added for the majority. “We further hold that the rules promulgating these exemptions are free from procedural defects.”
Justice Ginsburg’s dissent focused on putting women’s health at risk. The ruling is expected to cause 70,000 to 126,000 women to lose contraceptive coverage from their employers, according to government estimates.
“Today, for the first time, the Court casts totally aside countervailing rights and interests in its zeal to secure religious rights to the nth degree,” she wrote. “Destructive of the Women’s Health Amendment, this 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.”
However, proponents of religious freedom cite the relatively low cost compared to infringement on fundamental liberties protected by the First Amendment. According to Planned Parenthood, a contraception prescription costs $0 to $50 per month. The American Pregnancy Association notes that the initial physical exam with your physician may cost between $20 and $200.
Justice Kagan argued the Trump Administration did have the authority to issue the religious exemption to the contraceptive mandate. But she questioned whether the administration fulfilled “administrative law’s demand for reasoned decision-making.”
In an incredible twist, she used her opinion to give advice to opponents of the exemption. Justice Kagan wrote that Pennsylvania could further challenge the religious exemption as “arbitrary and capricious” in lower courts. The lower courts did not previously rule on that element because they had outright declared the administration didn’t have the authority.
Justice Alito noted this very point in his concurrence, in which he argues Justice Thomas’ ruling did not go far enough. He argued the Supreme Court should have ended the litigation and ruled exemption was required by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).
“We now send these cases back to the lower courts, where the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the State of New Jersey are all but certain to pursue their argument that the current rule is flawed on yet another ground, namely, that it is arbitrary and capricious and thus violates the APA,” Justice Alito wrote.
“If RFRA requires this exemption, the Departments did not act in an arbitrary and capricious manner in granting it. And in my judgment, RFRA compels an exemption for the Little Sisters and any other employer with a similar objection to what has been called the accommodation to the contraceptive mandate.”
The leftwing American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said the ruling gives the administration “a license to discriminate” in the name of religious liberty. Marjorie Dannenfelser, President of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, credited President Donald J. Trump for the victory.
“Today is a major victory for President Trump, who has courageously fought to protect the Little Sisters of the Poor from the Obama-Biden HHS abortifacient mandate,” she said. “We commend President Trump for standing strong for the Little Sisters of the Poor – his record stands in stark contrast to that of Joe Biden, who helped launch this assault as Obama’s Vice President nearly a decade ago.”