In a landmark decision, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld as constitutional the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as "Obamacare," in a 5-4 decision. Chief Justice John Roberts authored the majority opinion and was supported by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan. The individual mandate to purchase health insurance, which was the focus of particular constitutional debate, passed the scrutiny of these Justices as a tax, which Congress is permitted to authorize. In his majority opinion, the Chief Justice noted, “Members of this Court are vested with the authority to interpret the law; we possess neither the expertise nor the prerogative to make policy judgments. Those decisions are entrusted to our Nation’s elected leaders, who can be thrown out of office if the people disagree with them. It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices.” Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito dissented, asserting that the mandate “exceeds federal power” and the entire law should be struck down.
The ruling leaves unresolved the dilemma for religious organizations on how to respond to the U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Department’s mandate that almost all health insurance plans must cover contraceptive services, including abortion-inducing drugs. The HHS mandate included a narrow religious exemption, so narrow that it would not apply to many faith-based service and educational organizations. Despite pleas to ameliorate it, on January 20, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius issued a statement that the rule would remain as is and religious organizations may be granted an extra year to determine how to comply with it or face hefty fines, regardless of their faith-based objection. Significantly, less than two weeks before, the Supreme Court had rebuked the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for disrespecting the Constitution’s First Amendment rights for religious organizations.
By Aaron Mercer, Vice President Government Relations