The recent death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia leaves the fate of many active cases uncertain, including one pitting religious nonprofits against the government's contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act.
In Zubik v. Burwell, a collection of religiously affiliated organizations, including The Little Sisters of the Poor, are challenging the Obama administration's contraception accommodation for faith groups that contend the mandate makes them too complicit in enabling employees to receive birth control through a nonprofit's insurance plan without requiring the employer to pay for it.
The nonprofits are asking that employees desiring birth control be allowed to sign-up for insurance plans through the ACA insurance marketplace with no penalties for the employee or employer, according to The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing the Little Sisters of the Poor.
Many legal analysts believe Scalia would have sided with the religious nonprofits in this case because of his commitment to religious freedom. Scalia sided with the majority in the Supreme Court's 2014 Hobby Lobby ruling that found closely held businesses can claim a religious exemption to the ACA birth-control mandate.
If President Obama's nominee to replace Scalia doesn't win Senate approval, the eight remaining Supreme Court justices are expected to split 4-4 on Zubik v. Burwell, USA Today reported.
When America's highest court hands down a tie, the decisions of lower appeals courts are upheld. However, "those lower court rulings won't apply outside of their own jurisdictions, meaning the issues could be litigated all over again in future cases brought elsewhere in the country," Slate reported.
Most lower appeals courts have ruled in favor of the Obama administration in the case of the contraception mandate accommodation for religious nonprofits. But the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the faith-based organizations, meaning that the ACA's contraception mandate will be handled differently depending on where a group is located, according to Slate.
Zubik v. Burwell is one of many faith-related cases affected by Scalia's death, The Atlantic reported.
"While Scalia was on the bench, the Court typically split 5-4 on these kinds of cases, with Justice Anthony Kennedy providing the swing vote in either direction. Without Scalia, Kennedy's vote would at best produce a split decision, leaving lower-court rulings standing, or combine with the Court's liberals in a decisive 5-3 majority," the article noted.
Arguments for Zubik v. Burwell will be heard March 23.
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