In a unanimous opinion, the Supreme Court declined to issue a ruling in Zubik v. Burwell, the combined case dealing with religious exemptions to the Obamacare contraceptive mandate, sending the case back to the lower courts.
The justices wrote in an unsigned opinion that they were not deciding the case on its merits, but rather asking lower courts to negotiate a compromise. The decision vacates all lower court rulings, and also prevents the government from fining the Little Sisters for not complying with the mandate.
Mark Rienzi, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and the lead attorney for the Little Sisters, called the decision “a game-changer.”
“The Court has accepted the government’s concession that it can get drugs to people without using the Little Sisters,” Rienzi said in a statement. “The Court has eliminated all of the bad decisions from the lower courts. And the Court has forbidden the government from fining the Little Sisters even though they are refusing to bow to the government’s will. It is only a matter of time before the lower courts make this victory permanent.”
Russell Moore, who serves as the President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said the decision is “something we ought to celebrate.” However, Moore also noted that “The very fact that we had to have this argument ought to remind us of how far we have to go in persuading our neighbors that freedom is not a government grant. Freedom is a right given by God.”
Pro-life attorney David French weighed in on Twitter, saying that the Supreme Court “called the administration’s bluff.”
U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan reacted to the decision on Twitter:
“The Little Sisters deserve more than a victory in court. They deserve relief from this mandate, and an end to this ordeal. The administration should resolve this as soon as possible so the Sisters can go on serving the poor in peace as they have for so long. I am proud to stand with the Sisters, and all those who work every day to protect religious liberty.
– Speaker Paul Ryan
Since the Supreme Court did not issue a ruling on the merits of the case, there will likely be further legal action in the future. In a media conference call, Reinzi told reporters he didn’t know exactly what direction the case would take or what legal strategy the Becket Fund would pursue going forward.
“But I can tell you this,” Reinzi said, “The Little Sisters are not going to back down.”