THE ideologically deadlocked Supreme Court on Monday failed to resolve a major case involving the Obamacare law’s mandatory birth control coverage, telling lower courts to reconsider the matter after tossing out their rulings favoring President Barack Obama.
With four conservative justices and four liberals, the court did not rule on the merits of the legal challenge by nonprofit Christian employers who objected to the 2010 healthcare law’s requirement that they provide female workers with medical insurance paying for contraceptives.
The court’s action avoided a possible 4-4 split that would have affirmed the lower-court rulings. The justices, shorthanded following February’s death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, threw out seven rulings by federal appeals courts around the country that had backed the Obama administration.
The justices handed at least a short-term victory to the religious employers, primarily Roman Catholic organizations.
The decision suggested a possible compromise for the lower courts that would allow women to get contraception coverage without violating the religious rights of employers, by having the government arrange coverage directly with health insurers rather than requiring employers to sign off on it.
“The court expresses no view on the merits of the cases. In particular, the court does not decide whether petitioners’ religious exercise has been substantially burdened,” the unsigned ruling stated.
In a separate order, the court sent six other pending cases on the same issue back to lower courts, including two in which the religious employers prevailed.
Among the employers challenging the contraception mandate were the Roman Catholic archdioceses of Washington and Pittsburgh, the Little Sisters of the Poor order of nuns, and Christian colleges.
“We are pleased that the court confirms that there is a path forward that recognizes our religious liberty, yet we also recognize that this struggle will continue,” said Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington.