What has the Court done since Hobby Lobby?
Last week, the Supreme Court granted a temporary injunction to Wheaton College, saying it doesn't have to fill out a form that would qualify it for an "accommodation" to the contraception mandate. The accommodation was designed to give quasi-religious employers like Wheaton a way to avoid providing or paying for birth control directly, while still ensuring that their employees get access to the benefits the Affordable Care Act intended.
Earlier — the day after the Hobby Lobby ruling, in fact — the Supreme Court ordered lower courts to hold new hearings in three cases brought by religious nonprofits. The high court said those cases should be reheard in light of the Hobby Lobby ruling.
But those aren't final rulings, right? Why are people so worked up over these orders?
Hobby Lobby was about the contraception mandate and closely held for-profit companies. It didn't directly speak to religious nonprofits, which are eligible for an accommodation from the mandate. But the Court referenced that accommodation a lot in its Hobby Lobby ruling, saying the accommodation met the same goals as the contraception mandate but with fewer implications for employers' religious freedom.
Many liberals took that as a sign that the accommodation would survive its legal challenges. After all, why would the Court make such a big deal about a perfectly workable alternative, only to turn around a year or two later and say that alternative is also illegal? But in light of the Wheaton College order, they're not so sure.
"I think it's a pretty big sign that they're going to find that it's not an acceptable alternative," said Timothy Jost, a law professor at Washington and Lee University.
Wheaton, a Christian school, objects to much more than Hobby Lobby did. It's eligible for the accommodation that Hobby Lobby wasn't, which allows employers to claim a religious objection and then turn all of their contraceptive coverage over to their insurance company. Wheaton says even that middle ground is a violation of its religious liberty. Signing the form to claim a religious exemption means that the college is complicit in making contraception available, albeit from someone else, and so it objects to filling out the form.
By saying that the college doesn't have to fill out the form, the Supreme Court cast doubts on the very accommodation it was highlighting just a few days earlier — at least according to some legal experts, including Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who dissented from the Wheaton ruling.
"After expressly relying on the religious-nonprofit accommodation "¦ the court now, as the dissent in Hobby Lobby feared it might, retreats from that position," Sotomayor wrote.
So is this a done deal? The accommodation is going to get the ax for sure?
Not at all. An injunction isn't a ruling on the merits, and the Court explicitly said in its order that it wasn't making a final decision on the accommodation's legality.