Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Supremes to hear two HHS mandate challenges this term; decisions could come this June

The U.S. Supreme Court today agreed to consider two cases involving President Obama’s HHS mandate, which requires employers to cover contraceptives and abortion producing drugs in their health plans. One case involves Hobby Lobby Inc., an Oklahoma City-based arts and crafts chain with 13,000 full-time employees. Hobby Lobby won in the lower courts.

The other case is an appeal from Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp., a Pennsylvania company that employs 950 people in making wood cabinets. Lower courts rejected that company's claims. The cases will be combined for arguments, probably in late March. A decision should come by late June.

These are two landmark cases addressing the constitutionally guaranteed rights of business owners to operate their family companies without violating their deeply held religious convictions.

“This is a major step for the Greens [owners of Hobby Lobby] and their family businesses in an important fight for Americans’ religious liberty,” said Kyle Duncan, general counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and lead lawyer for Hobby Lobby. “We are hopeful that the Supreme Court will clarify once and for all that religious freedom in our country should be protected for family business owners like the Greens.”

In July, a lower federal court granted Hobby Lobby a preliminary injunction preventing the government from enforcing the HHS mandate requiring the family businesses to provide in the employee health insurance plan two drugs and two devices that are potentially life-terminating. Another federal court denied a similar request from Conestoga Wood Specialties.

The Greens and their family businesses – who have no moral objection to providing 16 of the 20 FDA-approved contraceptives required under the HHS mandate and do so at no additional cost to employees under their self-insured health plan – then took the unusual step in October of joining the government in asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case, despite the family’s victory in the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.

There are currently 84 lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the HHS mandate.   

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