Zubik v. Burwell

Facts of the Case

Petitioners were primarily nonprofit organizations that provide health insurance to their employees. Federal regulations required petitioners to cover certain contraceptives as part of their health plans, unless petitioners would submit a form either to their insurer or to the Federal Government, stating that they object on religious grounds to providing contraceptive coverage. Petitioners alleged that submitting the notice substantially burdened the exercise of their religion, in violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, 107 Stat. 1488, 42 U. S. C. §2000bb et seq. Following oral argument, the Court requested supplemental briefing from the parties addressing “whether contraceptive coverage could be provided to petitioners’ employees, through petitioners’ insurance companies, without any such notice from petitioners.” Both petitioners and the Government now confirm that such an option was feasible.

Question

(1) Does the availability of a regulatory exemption for religious employers regarding the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate eliminate the substantial burden on those organizations’ exercise of their religious freedom?(2) Do the Department of Health and Human Services’ guidelines satisfy the Religious Freedom Restoration Act’s demanding test for overriding religious objections?(3) Do the Department of Health and Human Services’ guidelines violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act when the government has not proven that the guidelines are the least restrictive means of advancing the compelling government interest?

CONCLUSION

After determining through supplemental briefing that insurance companies could provide contraceptive coverage to employees of organizations that object to such coverage on religious grounds without the organizations needing to provide notification, the Court vacated the case for further consideration by the lower courts in light of this agreement from the parties. In a per curiam opinion, the Court held that it reached no decision on the merits of the case, and nothing in the opinion should be construed as affecting the ability of the government to ensure that employees covered by the insurance plans at issue receive full contraceptive coverage. Given the importance of the issues involved in this case, the Court remanded the case to the lower courts to afford the parties the opportunity to determine how to proceed in a manner that grants employees full contraceptive coverage while also respecting the organizations’ religious exercise.In her concurring opinion, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that nothing in the majority opinion should be construed as signaling to lower courts where the Supreme Court stands on the merits of the case. Remanding the case allows the lower courts to consider whether the existing or modified regulations may properly balance the interests at issue.

Case Information

  • Citation: 578 US _ (2016)
  • Granted: Nov 6, 2015
  • Argued: Mar 23, 2016
  • Decided May 16, 2016