(CN) - The ACLU cannot challenge an expired deal that excluded abortions and contraceptives from federally funded services for victims of human trafficking, the 1st Circuit ruled.
In 2009, the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts sued the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services over its 3-year-old contract with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to provide services to trafficking victims.
At the Catholic bishops' insistence, the contract stated that none of the funding would be used to provide abortions or contraceptive services to trafficking victims.
The Catholic organization won the contract over the Salvation Army despite insisting on this restriction because its proposal required only $29 million in funding, as opposed to the Salvation Army's $89 million proposal.
Three years later, the ACLU challenged the contract under the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution.
A federal judge agreed, granting the watchdog group a declaratory judgment "insofar as [the Department of Health and Human Services] delegated authority to a religious organization to impose religiously based restrictions on the expenditure of taxpayer funds, and thereby impliedly endorsed the religious beliefs of the ... Catholic church."
The Boston-based 1st Circuit reversed Tuesday, finding the ACLUM's claims moot now that the "contract, and any use of taxpayer funds authorized by it, whether constitutional or not, has now ended."
"Moreover, HHS has awarded new grants to three different organizations, each for a term of 36 months," Judge Sandra Lynch wrote for a three-judge panel in Boston. "The ACLUM admits these grants do not raise Establishment Clause concerns. These new grants were made pursuant to HHS's new terms, which endorse a 'strong preference' for organizations willing to provide abortion and contraceptive services. The federal defendants argue that these events have mooted the ACLUM's challenge. We agree."
"There is literally no controversy left for the court to decide - the case is no longer 'live,'" she added. "Once a contract has expired, and the obligations between its signatories have ended, and if no damages are sought, the parties usually do not have a legally cognizable interest in the case's outcome."
Lynch also found it unlikely that the government would sign a similar contract given that the agency "has committed itself for the next three years to new grants that fund the full range of legally permissible abortion and contraceptive services."
The court remanded with instructions to dismiss the case.
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