U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito granted another emergency request by religiously affiliated nonprofits to avoid complying with the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit.
In an order issued late on April 15, Justice Alito stayed a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Zubik v. Burwell, a case involving challenges to the process established by the Obama administration for accommodating religious objections to the birth control benefit in the health-care law.
Attorneys for the conservative Becket Fund for Religious Liberty sued the administration on behalf of the Roman Catholic Dioceses in Erie and Pittsburgh and their affiliate organizations, arguing the self-certification process to avoid complying with the benefit violated their religious rights by “triggering” contraceptive coverage for staff and students.
A three-judge panel from the Third Circuit in February rejected those claims and unanimously held that the certification process did not substantially burden the religious nonprofits’ exercise of their religious rights in violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The Third Circuit on April 6 denied the diocese’s request for the full bench to review the panel decision.
Alito’s order directs the Obama administration to respond by April 20 to stay.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is considering intervening in a similar case out of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals when it conferences on April 24.
In March the high court vacated an order from the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in an almost identical challenge by the University of Notre Dame, directing the Seventh Circuit to take another look at its decision to order the university to comply with the accommodation process or face fines.
The Seventh Circuit will rehear those arguments on April 22.