The Supreme Court sounded “ready” to throw out the part of the Affordable Care Act that requires certain religious corporations to offer employees contraceptive coverage, according to a report in The Los Angeles Times.
The court’s conservative justices were sharply critical of the provision in the law. The women justices, meanwhile — liberals Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg — defended the law, according to the Times.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, a swing voter with a libertarian bent, told U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, who defended the mandate, that his reasoning “would permit requiring profit-making corporations to pay for abortions.”
The rule at stake under the health-care overhaul is a provision that Obamacare that requires all new health insurance plans to pay for contraceptives. The issue is whether for-profit corporations — in this case, the lead plaintiff Hobby Lobby Inc. — can refuse to provide all or some contraceptive services.
Verrilli argued for-profit corporations should not have a right to religious liberty that supersedes federal law. He told Chief Justice John Roberts it would potentially open the floodgates for for-profit corporations to claim exemptions.
But Roberts said Congress passed the 1993 Religious Freedom Act for that reason, and he hinted at a possible narrower ruling that focuses on more closely held companies, according to the Wall Street Journal:
Chief Justice Roberts appeared to tip his hand when he told Mr. Verrilli that the parade of horribles — all kinds of religious exemptions being claimed by all sorts of employers, punching holes in the uniform application of the laws — could be avoided by a ruling limited to closely held enterprises, like S corporations that pass their earnings through to their shareholders. That would leave the issue of, say, an Exxon claiming religious freedom rights to another day. Later, Justice [Stephen] Breyer suggested he might be open to that type of resolution.
In somewhat typical fashion, Kennedy seems to be the key swing vote. According to the Journal, he asked sceptical questions of both sides. Both Verrilli and Paul Clement, the lawyer representing Hobby Lobby, reportedly aimed at him in their closing arguments.
This is the most significant Obamacare-related case argued before the Supreme Court since the high court upheld the law’s individual insurance mandate two years ago, in the heat of the 2012 presidential election. A ruling is expected to come in June.
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