On Friday afternoon, the U.S. Supreme Court handed a victory to Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic organization seeking exemption from the federal contraceptive mandate. The court's order extended the temporary injunction against the mandate that Justice Sonia Sotomayor originally granted on New Year's Eve. The organization will be entirely exempt from the mandate pending a decision from the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. While religious liberty advocates will celebrate the decision, the high court said its order “should not be construed as an expression of the court’s views on the merits.”
Court watchers were in the dark about what the justices were doing on this case leading up to Friday’s order. Sotomayor had asked the federal government to file a response to Little Sisters by Jan. 3, after which she would decide whether to extend her injunction. Weeks passed with nothing from the court.
The delay was apparently because Sotomayor had submitted the case to the full court’s consideration. Under the current contraceptive mandate regulations, if a religious nonprofit objects to contraceptive coverage, it must submit a form noting its religious objections and authorize a third party insurer to provide contraceptives. Little Sisters objected to authorizing a third party to provide contraceptives and abortifacients to its employees. When the court extended the injunction, it said Little Sisters did not need to file that form, but would be completely exempt from the mandate if it wrote a note to the federal government.
“If the employer applicants inform the Secretary of Health and Human Services in writing that they are nonprofit organizations that hold themselves out as religious and have religious objections to providing coverage for contraceptive services, the respondents are enjoined from enforcing against the applicants the challenged provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and related regulations pending final disposition of the appeal by the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit,” the court wrote.