On Friday afternoon, the Supreme Court extended an injunction granted to the Little Sisters of the Poor that shields the religious nonprofit and its affiliates from having to fill out paperwork in order to be exempt from the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act.
The unsigned order, issued without opinion or dissent, was released after weeks of silence from the Roberts Court after Justice Sonia Sotomayor granted an emergency request to block enforcement of the mandate against the group late New Year’s Eve. Justice Sotomayor had referred the request to the entire Court for consideration following that initial injunction, which resulted in Friday’s extension of that injunction.
The order means that the Little Sisters of the Poor will not have to comply with the contraception mandate while their constitutional challenge to the mandate proceeds before the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.
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The justices’ order does not require the Little Sisters to fill out EBSA 700, the form that religiously affiliated nonprofits must complete to claim an exemption to the contraception mandate. But it does require the Little Sisters to tell the government, in writing, that the group is a nonprofit and that they “hold themselves out as religious and have religious objection to providing coverage for contraception services.” Assuming the Little Sisters do provide that substitute notification, then, according to the order, the Obama administration is prevented from enforcing the mandate against them.
While the order offers some relief for the Little Sisters, the Court stressed that it should not be considered a ruling on the merits, closing its order with:
This order should not be construed as an expression of the Court’s views on the merits.
The Little Sisters is one in over 100 lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the contraception mandate. In March, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in two of those challenges and consider whether secular, for-profit corporations have religious rights that are violated by complying with the mandate.
Sharon Levin, director of federal reproductive health policy at the National Women’s Law Center, said in a statement, “Although the Center is disappointed in this temporary order, the Court emphasized that the order ‘should not be construed as an expression of the Court’s views on the merits.’ We are confident once the merits in this case are fully considered by the 10th Circuit, that it will once again uphold the birth control regulations as it did in December.”