WASHINGTON -- The Affordable Care Act exempts houses of worship from providing birth control coverage to their employees. But the law grants employees of religious groups access to contraceptives through third parties, instead of the employer's insurance.
That workaround -- meant to safeguard the religious freedom of organizations that oppose birth control -- actually violates those freedoms under the religious freedom Restoration Act of 1993, lawyers for the Little Sisters of the Poor and other charities, universities and hospitals argued Wednesday at the U.S. Supreme Court.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and more than a dozen of his counterparts in other states filed a legal brief to support them. DeWine in the past has tried to chip away at the Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare.
Ohio loses its latest challenge to Obamacare
The eight justices seemed split on the case.
Here's what you need to know.
1. What the lawyers said:
While the Obama administration tried to accommodate objections to contraceptives by making third parties responsible for providing coverage to their workers, religious groups argued the workaround still makes them complicit in practices they view as wrong. They want the same contraceptive coverage exemption granted to houses of worship.
"There are three legs to the stool in this case," the nuns' lawyer, Paul Clement, told the court. "There is the fact that the government demands more than an objection, the fact that it enforces it with massive penalties, and the reality that if that happens, then they are going to hijack our health plans and provide the coverage against our will."
U.S. Solicitor General Donald B. Verilli Jr. argued the accommodation under fire in the case "strikes precisely the sensible balance between religious liberty and compelling governmental interest that Congress sought when it enacted" the religious freedom law.
2. What the Justices said:
The court's four liberal justices indicated they believe the administration's accommodations are adequate, while the conservative justices said the government shouldn't be able to force the insurance plans of religious groups to go against their beliefs.
"The objection is that the government is hijacking their process, their insurance company, their third party administrator that they have hired and set up to provide these services," said Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, a conservative.
Justice Stephen Breyer, one of the court's liberals, said the distinction can't be "well, you've exempted some people, so you have to exempt the religious people too."
"There has to be an accommodation, and that's what the government tried to do," added Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
3. What the state of Ohio said:
DeWine's legal brief argued the nuns' "position is based not on the secular burden of administrative inconvenience, but on a sincere religious conviction that complying with the contraceptive mandate is forbidden to them."
More than 200 GOP congress members - including Holmes County's Bob Gibbs, Champaign County's Jim Jordan, Russell Township's Dave Joyce, and Wadsworth's Jim Renacci - signed onto a separate brief to back the nuns.
That brief says that despite the religious freedom Restoration Act's command that the religious beliefs of all individuals and organizations be accorded deference, "HHS has given the religious liberties of religious non-profits second-tier status."
4. What are the Supreme Court precedents?
In 2014, the court determined in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby that "closely held" for-profit companies could skip paying for employees' contraceptive coverage under the religious freedom Restoration Act if their owners have religious objections to providing birth control.
5. How might Justice Antonin Scalia's death affect the case?
Eight appeals courts said the administration's workaround did not unduly burden the religious groups, but the Eight Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, calling the law a "substantial burden on their religious exercise."
If the justices deadlock in a 4-4 tie without the conservative Scalia, the conflicting decisions would remain in place and different rules would apply in different parts of the country. The Supreme Court usually takes on such cases to establish uniformity. In the event of a split, the justices could also require that the case be re-argued after Scalia's seat is filled.<a href="https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/2774812/Supreme-Court-argument-transcript-in-Zubik-v.pdf">Supreme Court argument transcript in Zubik v Burwell (PDF)</a> <br /> <a href="https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/2774812/Supreme-Court-argument-transcript-in-Zubik-v.txt">Supreme Court argument transcript in Zubik v Burwell (Text)</a>
Source : http://www.cleveland.com/open/index.ssf/2016/03/us_supreme_court_hears_case_on.html