Monday, May 23, 2016

U.S. SUPREME COURT - Affordable Healthcare Act Birth Control Case

"President ties Supreme Court punt on Obamacare birth control case to Garland stalemate" PBS NewsHour 5/16/2016


SUMMARY:  Monday saw the evenly divided Supreme Court punt on two major cases, including a religious challenge to the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate.  The no-decisions prompted President Obama to speculate the GOP’s refusal to consider Merrick Garland’s nomination might be having an effect.  Marcia Coyle of The National Law Journal joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the supreme drama.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  It was a busy day at the Supreme Court.  The justices weighed in on a handful of cases, including what was supposed to be one of this term’s blockbusters: a dispute pitting religious freedom against mandate to cover contraception under the Affordable Care Act.

But the eight justices failed to offer a definitive decision, sending the case back down to lower federal courts.

President Obama addressed the decision, and speculated there might have been a different outcome if the vacancy left by the late Justice Scalia had been filled.  He spoke with BuzzFeed News.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:  Women will still continue to be able to get contraception if they are getting health insurance.

And we are properly accommodating religious institutions who have objections to contraception.  I won’t speculate as to why they punted, but my suspicion is, if we had nine Supreme Court justices, instead of eight, there might have been a different outcome.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  We break down the short-handed court and its rulings today with chief Washington correspondent for “The National Law Journal” and “NewsHour” regular Marcia Coyle.

Marcia, we spoke about this when the justices seemed to ask for more information from everyone, trying to figure out a third way.  So here was a decision without really a decision.

MARCIA COYLE, The National Law Journal:  Well, actually, that third way was sort of an opening for the court.

Right after oral arguments, when it looked like the court was going to divide 4-4, they issued a special order telling the parties, the government and the nonprofit employers, to brief their own suggested compromise, a compromise offered by the court itself.

Well, when the brief came back, Hari, it really didn’t look like there was a lot of room for compromise there.  But there was enough there that the court, in its opinion today, which was an unsigned opinion read by the chief justice from the bench, the court said, look, it looks as though there’s been movement on both sides here.  Let’s give the parties the opportunity in the lower courts to develop it before we, as the Supreme Court, would get involved in it.

And that’s what they did.  They said specifically they wouldn’t decide whether the government’s plan in practice now to accommodate religious objections substantially burdened these employers’ exercise of religion or whether the government had a compelling interest here or was choosing the least restrictive means to achieve that interest, which is the test under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

So, they vacated the lower court decisions in the seven cases that they had before them, and then they also had an additional six cases that were awaiting the outcome in today’s decision.  They vacated the lower court rulings in those cases, overwhelmingly had been in favor of the government.

And, basically, those federal appellate courts will be starting now from scratch to see if there really is an opening for a compromise here.

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