Health Reform WK-EDGE Amicus briefs filed in ACA contraceptive coverage case, response due date extended
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Monday, November 25, 2019

Amicus briefs filed in ACA contraceptive coverage case, response due date extended

By Tulay Turan, J.D.

Brief filed before High Court in RFRA litigation.

Several amicus briefs have been filed in Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Trump, in which the Third Circuit held that Pennsylvania and New Jersey are likely to succeed in proving the agencies did not follow the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and that the contraceptive exemption regulations are not authorized under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or required by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). In October 2019, the Little Sisters of the Poor filed a Several amicus briefs have been filed in Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Trump, in which the Third Circuit held that Pennsylvania and New Jersey are likely to succeed in proving the agencies did not follow the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and that the contraceptive exemption regulations are not authorized under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or required by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). In October 2019, the Little Sisters of the Poor filed a petition for certiorari asking the Supreme Court to resolve whether the federal government lawfully exempted religious objectors from the regulatory requirement to provide health plans that include contraceptive coverage.

Support for exemption. The amicus briefs filed thus far support the Little Sisters of the Poor’s right to an exemption from the regulations and urge the court to clarify agencies’ authority to issue regulations in relation to RFRA. According to a brief submitted by Texas Attorney General Paxton on behalf of 16 states, RFRA compels agencies to avoid substantial burdens on religion while implementing generally applicable legislation.

"The Trump administration correctly granted a religious exemption that was absolutely necessary to protect the Little Sisters and others like them from being forced to violate their deeply-held religious and moral convictions," Paxton said. "To deny this exemption is an assault on religious liberty and rights of conscience. Federal law requires the government to respect religious beliefs, and this case is no exception."

Joining in the brief along with the state of Texas are the states of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Missouri, Montana, Oklahoma, South Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, and West Virginia.

Congressional members seek reversal. Ninety-two members of Congress also submitted an amicus brief asking the court to review and reverse the Third Circuit’s decision.

"The Little Sisters’ petition correctly shows that the contraceptive mandate promulgated by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) presents a fundamental question of religious liberty that warrants this Court’s review. For that reason alone, the Court should grant certiorari and consider whether the federal government lawfully exempted religious objectors from the contraceptive mandate. Of particular concern to amici is the need for this Court to reaffirm the scope and role of RFRA, which Congress enacted ‘to provide very broad protection for religious liberty,’" the brief states.

Ruling violates Free Exercise Clause. In addition to agreeing that the Third Circuit’s decision violates RFRA, the Foundation for Moral Law argues in its amicus brief that the decision also violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. The foundation argues the court can consider this issue because it is "inextricably linked" with those raised by the parties.

"Even if the Religious Freedom Restoration Act does not permit the Executive Branch to create religious exemptions, the Free Exercise Clause requires that a generally applicable law not be enforced as to a person with sincere religious objections. It is also not for the government to make theological evaluations as to whether a person’s religious beliefs should be satisfied or not. Furthermore, the limits of the Free Exercise Clause should not be evaluated by whether there is an undue burden on another person, as the Third Circuit did. Rather, the inquiry should focus on whether an exemption would violate the private rights of a third person or breach the public peace. If the answers to these questions are ‘no,’ then the right to free exercise of religion prevails," the brief states.

Response due date. In addition, the Supreme Court granted an extension to the response due date. The response to the petition is now due by December 9, 2019. for certiorari asking the Supreme Court to resolve whether the federal government lawfully exempted religious objectors from the regulatory requirement to provide health plans that include contraceptive coverage.

Support for exemption. The amicus briefs filed thus far support the Little Sisters of the Poor’s right to an exemption from the regulations and urge the court to clarify agencies’ authority to issue regulations in relation to RFRA. According to a brief submitted by Texas Attorney General Paxton on behalf of 16 states, RFRA compels agencies to avoid substantial burdens on religion while implementing generally applicable legislation.

"The Trump administration correctly granted a religious exemption that was absolutely necessary to protect the Little Sisters and others like them from being forced to violate their deeply-held religious and moral convictions," Paxton said. "To deny this exemption is an assault on religious liberty and rights of conscience. Federal law requires the government to respect religious beliefs, and this case is no exception."

Joining in the brief along with the state of Texas are the states of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Missouri, Montana, Oklahoma, South Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, and West Virginia.

Congressional members seek reversal. Ninety-two members of Congress also submitted an amicus brief asking the court to review and reverse the Third Circuit’s decision.

"The Little Sisters’ petition correctly shows that the contraceptive mandate promulgated by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) presents a fundamental question of religious liberty that warrants this Court’s review. For that reason alone, the Court should grant certiorari and consider whether the federal government lawfully exempted religious objectors from the contraceptive mandate. Of particular concern to amici is the need for this Court to reaffirm the scope and role of RFRA, which Congress enacted ‘to provide very broad protection for religious liberty,’" the brief states.

Ruling violates Free Exercise Clause. In addition to agreeing that the Third Circuit’s decision violates RFRA, the Foundation for Moral Law argues in its amicus brief that the decision also violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. The foundation argues the court can consider this issue because it is "inextricably linked" with those raised by the parties.

"Even if the Religious Freedom Restoration Act does not permit the Executive Branch to create religious exemptions, the Free Exercise Clause requires that a generally applicable law not be enforced as to a person with sincere religious objections. It is also not for the government to make theological evaluations as to whether a person’s religious beliefs should be satisfied or not. Furthermore, the limits of the Free Exercise Clause should not be evaluated by whether there is an undue burden on another person, as the Third Circuit did. Rather, the inquiry should focus on whether an exemption would violate the private rights of a third person or breach the public peace. If the answers to these questions are ‘no,’ then the right to free exercise of religion prevails," the brief states.

Response due date. In addition, the Supreme Court granted an extension to the response due date. The response to the petition is now due by December 9, 2019.

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