In a rare move that surprised the nation, the Supreme Court has voted – unanimously – to punt the Little Sisters of the Poor case back to the lower courts.
Zubik v. Burwell is the first time in American history that Catholic nuns have taken a case to the Supreme Court. Unsurprisingly, the nuns’ complaint was centered on Obamacare.
As I wrote in March, the Little Sisters of the Poor were furious when they were told that they must comply with ACA requirements regarding abortion. The charity was given an impossible choice: violate its faith by providing abortion services or pay an unimaginable $70 million fine. With considerable bipartisan support from House Speaker Paul Ryan and numerous congressmen, the Sisters decided to fight the case.
Many worried that Justice Scalia’s absence would leave the vote tied at 4-4. To avoid such an outcome, SCOTUS asked both parties to submit briefs outlining the accomodations they would find appropriate. The documents were enough to convince the Court that the two parties would be able to work things out on their own. The decision to send the case back to the 8th Circuit will allow both parites ample time “to resolve any outstanding issues between them.”
Monday’s atypical ruling is being heralded as a “win for religious liberty” and is considered a good sign for the Little Sisters. “This is an excellent development. Clearly the Supreme Court understood the Sisters’ concern that the government’s current scheme forces them to violate their religion,” says lead attorney Mark Rienzi of Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. “We look forward to offering alternatives that protect the Little Sisters’ religious liberty while allowing the government to meet its stated goals.”
Zubik v. Burwell is the fourth ACA case that has made it to the Supreme Court and the second that has involved the “contraception mandate.” While the court reported that it had no opinion on the merits of the Little Sisters of the Poor case, it did note that such cases prove that religious nonprofits and charities object to the ACA mandate. As a result, the government cannot fine petitioners for refusing to fill out forms they find objectionable.