SCOTUS Sides With Hobby Lobby to Weaken Obamacare Mandate

The Supreme Court said companies don’t have to cover birth control if it violates their religious beliefs.

Hobby Lobby supporters react to the U.S. Supreme Court decision, June 30, 2014 in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Sam Baker
June 30, 2014, 6:28 a.m.

Obama­care’s con­tra­cep­tion man­date in­fringes on re­li­gious liberty and must be waived for some busi­ness own­ers, the Su­preme Court said in a 5-4 rul­ing Monday.

Cer­tain em­ploy­ers can­not be forced to in­clude con­tra­cep­tion in their health care plans if do­ing so would vi­ol­ate their re­li­gious be­liefs, the Court said. The justices did not strike down the birth-con­trol man­date al­to­geth­er, but their de­cision will weak­en the policy’s reach.

Writ­ing for the ma­jor­ity, Justice Samuel Alito said the de­cision ap­plied only to closely held cor­por­a­tions, like the two firms that filed this chal­lenge.

Re­lated: Gins­burg: ‘Rad­ic­al’ Hobby Lobby Rul­ing May Cre­ate ‘Hav­oc’

How deeply the Court’s de­cision un­der­mines the con­tra­cep­tion man­date will de­pend largely on how busi­ness own­ers re­spond. Wo­men’s-rights ad­voc­ates have said a rul­ing in Hobby Lobby’s fa­vor could af­fect mil­lions of wo­men, al­though birth con­trol re­mains a pop­u­lar and par­tic­u­larly cost-ef­fect­ive be­ne­fit.

The fur­thest-reach­ing im­plic­a­tions could come farther down the road; the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion and its al­lies have warned that com­pan­ies will rely on the rul­ing to seek ex­emp­tions from anti-dis­crim­in­a­tion laws.

“So an­oth­er em­ploy­er comes in and that em­ploy­er says, ‘I have a re­li­gious ob­jec­tion to sex-dis­crim­in­a­tion laws.’ And then an­oth­er em­ploy­er comes in: ‘I have a re­li­gious ob­jec­tion to min­im­um-wage laws.’ And then an­oth­er, fam­ily leave; and then an­oth­er, child-labor laws,” Justice Elena Kagan said dur­ing or­al ar­gu­ments in March.

Alito sought to blunt that pos­sib­il­ity in Monday’s rul­ing, writ­ing that al­low­ing com­pan­ies to opt out of the Af­ford­able Care Act’s con­tra­cep­tion man­date did not ne­ces­sar­ily al­low them to opt out of oth­er health care re­quire­ments.

The chal­lenge to the con­tra­cep­tion man­date was filed by two for-profit com­pan­ies — Hobby Lobby and Con­es­toga Wood Spe­cial­ties — whose own­ers ob­ject on re­li­gious grounds to some forms of birth con­trol.

Obama­care re­quires for-profit com­pan­ies to in­clude a defined set of pre­vent­ive ser­vices in their health care plans without any cost-shar­ing — such as co-pays or de­duct­ibles — for em­ploy­ees. On the ad­vice of an ex­pert sci­entif­ic pan­el, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion in­cluded con­tra­cep­tion as one of the re­quired pre­vent­ive ser­vices.

The broad­er pre­ven­tion man­date still stands, and con­tra­cep­tion is still part of it. The Court’s rul­ing only means that com­pan­ies must be able to seek an ex­emp­tion from the cov­er­age re­quire­ment on re­li­gious grounds.

What We're Following See More »
Romney to Skip Convention
15 minutes ago

An aide to Mitt Romney confirmed to the Washington Post that the 2102 GOP nominee will not attend the Republican convention this year. He joins the two living Republican presidents, George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush, as well as 2008 nominee John McCain in skipping the event. Even among living Republican nominees, that leaves only Bob Dole who could conceivably show up. Dole did say in January that he'd prefer Trump to Ted Cruz, but his age (92) could keep him from attending.

FDA to Ban All Tobacco Sales to Minors
2 hours ago

In a long-awaiting new rule, the Food and Drug Administration will ban sale of all tobacco products—including e-cigarettes—to those under 18. The rule takes effect in 90 days. It's part of a larger package of regulations that "gives FDA authority to regulate—but not to ban—all tobacco products, from e-cigarettes to cigars and hookahs." Meanwhile, California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed a bill on Wednesday that would bump the legal age to buy all tobacco products from 18 to 21.

Sen. Sasse Calls for a Third Candidate
3 hours ago

Sen. Ben Sasse, the most prominent elected official to declare that he's #NeverTrump, wrote an open letter on Facebook to the "majority of Americans who wonder why the nation that put a man on the moon can’t find a healthy leader who can take us forward together." Calling to mind recent conversations at a Fremont, Neb., Walmart, the senator pitted the presumptive general election battle between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton as such a "terrible choice" that there would be an appetite for another candidate to emerge. In a parenthetical aside to reporters, Sasse ruled himself out. "Such a leader should be able to campaign 24/7 for the next six months," he wrote. "Therefore he/she likely can’t be an engaged parent with little kids." Meanwhile, his colleague Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) admitted in a private recording obtained by Politico that Trump hurts his reelection chances.

Former Sen. Bob Bennett Dies at 82
7 hours ago

Former Utah Republican Sen. Bob Bennett died of pancreatic cancer on Wednesday after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. Bennett was defeated in a primary in 2010 by Tea Party–backed Mike Lee.

Judge Approves Deposition of Clinton Aides
7 hours ago

"Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, approved a joint proposal presented by Judicial Watch and the State Department to take the depositions of officials" involved in the setup and use of Hillary Clinton's private email server, "including Cheryl D. Mills, Clinton's former chief of staff, Huma Abedin, a senior adviser to Clinton, and Bryan Pagliano, a State Department employee who serviced and maintained the server." He said Clinton could be deposed later on, though that may not be necessary.