WASHINGTON – A divided Supreme Court seemed inclined to agree Tuesday that the religious objections of business owners may protect them from a requirement in President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act that health insurance plans cover all types of contraceptives.
The conservative wing of the court seemed to agree that the challengers in the two cases – closely held corporations owned by families whose religious beliefs the government does not question – could be covered by a federal law that provides great protection for the exercise of religion.
As is often the case, Justice Anthony Kennedy – who voted two years ago to find Obama’s health care law unconstitutional – seemed to hold the deciding vote.
Some of his remarks and questions favored the government. He was concerned about workers being denied coverage to which they were entitled by law. But Kennedy also raised the worry that the government’s reasoning would mean there was little employers could object to funding.
Kennedy told Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. that under Verrilli’s view, a corporation “could be forced in principle to pay for abortions.” Verrilli said there are laws against that.
“But your reasoning would permit that,” Kennedy responded.
The three liberal and female justices were skeptical and aggressive questioners of Paul Clement, the Washington lawyer representing two companies that object to providing coverage for emergency contraception and intrauterine devices.
Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan continually pressed Clement on whether his argument could be extended to other issues.
“So another employer comes in, and that employer says, ‘I have a religious objection to sex discrimination laws.’ And then another employer comes in, ‘I have a religious objection to minimum wage laws.’ And then another, family leave. And then another, child labor laws,” Kagan said.
Clement said that there is no reason to believe that would happen and that courts could decide whether such claims had merit.