Next week the Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in what might be the splashiest case of this term. It will hear two challenges to the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employers include free contraception in the health insurance packages they offer to their employees. TPM lays out the background:
The first case the court will take up is Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. The second is Sebelius v. Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. The Supreme Court consolidated the cases and allotted a total of one hour for oral arguments on Tuesday morning.Both are for-profit companies. Hobby Lobby is a Oklahoma-based arts and crafts retail chain with Christian owners so devout that the stores close on Sundays. Conestoga Wood is a Pennsylvania-based manufacturer of wood doors and other furniture. Both sued to block the mandate to cover contraceptives like Plan B and Ella, saying it violates their religious liberty.
This case will be as big in its own way as the recent cases over gay marriage—bigger even, because many people who aren’t particularly exercised by the contraceptive mandate would be more than happy to see the ACA dealt a blow by the Court. The decision will likely hinge on the Court’s understanding of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. RFRA permits government infringements on religious liberty only when those infringements are the least restrictive way to achieve a compelling state interest. RFRA was in the background of the controversy over Arizona’s religious freedom bill, which would have allowed vendors with religious objections to refuse, for instance, to provide services at gay weddings. So the Court’s ruling will be relevant to several ongoing debates.TPM’s piece suggests that supporters of the contraception mandate should be concerned that the Supreme Court won’t rule in their favor. But the lower courts were divided on the question of whether for-profit companies should be exempt from the mandate, and RFRA was originally passed in response to a Supreme Court that had often ruled to restrict religious freedom. This could still be anyone’s game.