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Friday, February 23, 2024 | Back issues
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SCOTUS Victory for Notre Dame on Obamacare

WASHINGTON (CN) - Citing its curbing of the contraception mandate in the federal health care reform law, the Supreme Court handed Notre Dame University victory in a similar case Monday.

Notre Dame had sought a religious exemption from the contraception mandate of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act based on the alleged burden of filling out a short form to opt out of paying for the contraceptive needs of its employees or insured students.

In addition to mailing this form to the government, it must also provide its insurer and insurance administrator with a copy.

Notre Dame sought a preliminary injunction against this certification requirement, arguing that "no compelling governmental interest" justified the burden of filling out the form.

Because the university waited so long to file suit, however, it was unable to obtain an injunction before penalties set in.

Notre Dame signed the form and sent copies to its insurer on Dec. 31, 2013.

A federal judge in South Bend, Ind., declined to grant a preliminary injunction, and the 7th Circuit affirmed, 2-1, in February 2014.

"The process of claiming one's exemption from the duty to provide contraceptive coverage is the opposite of cumbersome," Judge Richard Posner wrote for the majority. "It amounts to signing one's name and mailing the signed form to two addresses. Notre Dame may consider the process a substantial burden, but substantiality - like compelling governmental interest - is for the court to decide. Otherwise there would have been no need for Congress in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to prefix 'substantial' to 'burden.'"

The form is only two pages long, and would take no more than five minutes to fill out, according to the 30-page judgment.

Further, even if Notre Dame had not submitted the form and instead chose to pay the substantial penalties, its insurer would still be required by federal law to provide contraceptive services to the university's employees and students.

Judge Joel Flaum had argued in dissent meanwhile that Notre Dame could be burdened by the certification requirement.

"I do not question that the accommodation is the government's good-faith attempt to meet religious objectors halfway, and it makes this a somewhat closer case than Korte," Flaum wrote, referring to Korte v. Sebelius. "Nevertheless, by putting substantial pressure on Notre Dame to act in ways that (as the university sees it) involve the university in the provision of contraceptives, I believe that the accommodation still runs afoul of RFRA [Religious Freedom Restoration Act]." (Parentheses in original.)

Flaum also compared Notre Dame's case to that of Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged, a group of nuns who also claim an undue burden in the process of applying for an exemption to so-called Obamacare. The Supreme Court granted the nuns an injunction to remain in force until the 10th Circuit rules on the merits.

Later that year, the Supreme Court affirmed an injunction against the contraception mandate in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., a victory for closely held companies owned by individuals with religious objections to contraception.

Citing only that decision Monday, the Supreme Court reversed the 7th Circuit's decision against Notre Dame.

There is no opinion accompanying the paragraph-long summary reversal.

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