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Another Petition for Supreme Court Review Filed in Contraception Mandate Litigation

Jessica Mason Pieklo

Conservatives asked the Roberts Court to review and reverse a federal appeals court decision that for-profit companies are not "people" with religious exercise rights.

This week the Thomas More Society, along with the Catholic Vote Legal Defense Fund and a Michigan law firm, petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit decision in the secular, for-profit corporate battle over the contraception benefit in the health-care reform law, adding to the speculation the Roberts Court could intervene in the litigation as early as this term.

The petitioners want the Supreme Court to review and reverse the decision in the Autocam decision, which held a corporation cannot be considered a “person” capable of exercising religious rights under either the Religious Freedom Restoration Act or the First Amendment. The plaintiffs, devout Catholics who own and operate an automative manufacturing business, contend the contraception mandate forces them to violate their religious beliefs by providing insurance for birth control to its employees. And despite the fact that Autocam Corp. is a secular, for-profit business, the plaintiffs contend that it is their Catholic faith, as much as their desire to make money, that drives their business decisions.

“Forcing citizens to violate their conscientious religious beliefs makes a mockery of the very notion of religious freedom,” said Tom Brejcha, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Society, in a statement. “Indeed, our criminal laws demand that American businesses as well as their owners act in accord with myriad laws designed to serve the public welfare and the common good, rather than maximization of profits. People of faith must not be coerced to check their religious liberties at the door when they enter the commercial marketplace.”

The petition for review in Autocam comes as little surprise. In addition to being a clear decision against those arguing for secular, for-profit corporate religious rights, the decision has had an immediate impact on other legal challenges to the mandate pending in the Sixth Circuit, most notably in the case of Eden Foods, for which the Obama administration filed a motion with the Sixth Circuit asking it to summarily affirm a lower court’s denial of a preliminary injunction. The Sixth Circuit denied the request but asked the parties to submit additional briefing addressing the impact of the Autocam decision. The Sixth Circuit made a similar ruling in the Weingartz/Legatus case. Both cases had been slated for oral arguments before the Sixth Circuit, but those arguments were waived while the parties addressed the effect of the Autocam decision.

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In addition to this latest petition for Supreme Court review, two additional secular, for-profit companies filed lawsuits challenging the mandate, bringing the total number of lawsuits filed by conservatives challenging the mandate to 84. Of those 84 cases, 60 are currently pending. Due to the government shutdown, the Obama administration had requested stays on a number of cases pending challenging the mandate. Now that the budget battle has subsided, those legal challenges will proceed.

The next federal appeals court hearing on the mandate is scheduled for October 24 in the cases of O’Brien v. Sebelius and Annex Medical v. Sebelius.

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