Friday, December 15, 2017
Judge Wendy Beetlestone (E.D. Pa.) ruled today that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was likely to succeed on the merits of its challenge to the Trump Administration's interim final rules rolling back Obamacare's contraception mandate. Judge Beetlestone issued a temporary injunction, halting enforcement of the rules.
The case, Pennsylvania v. Trump, arose when the administration issued two interim final rules that all but undid the Affordable Care Act's contraception mandate for any organization that didn't want to enforce it. One rule, the Religious Exemption Rule, said that any organization could claim an exemption based on a sincerely held religious belief; the other, the Moral Exemption Rule, said the same thing for any organization that claimed a sincere moral objection. Under the rules, objecting organizations didn't have to seek an accommodation; they could simply drop coverage (with ERISA notice to their employees).
Pennsylvania sued, arguing that the IRFs violated the Administrative Procedure Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act , equal protection, and the Establishment Clause.
Judge Beetlestone first ruled that the Commonwealth had standing--for exactly the same reasons why Texas had standing to challenge President Obama's DAPA program in Texas v. United States:
There is no daylight between the 2015 Texas suit against the federal government and the current Commonwealth suit against the federal government. Like Texas, the Commonwealth challenges agency action in issuing regulations--here, the New IRFs. It is all the more significant that the Commonwealth, like Texas before it, sues to halt affirmative conduct made by a federal agency. . . . Furthermore, like Texas and Massachusetts [in Massachusetts v. EPA], the Commonwealth seeks to protect a quasi-sovereign interest--the health of its women residents. . . . According to the Commonwealth . . . the Agencies' New IRFs will allow more employers to exempt themselves from the ACA's Contraceptive Mandate. Consequently, the Commonwealth contends that Pennsylvania women will seek state-funded sources of contraceptive care. Such a course of action will likely cause the Commonwealth to expend more funds to protect its quasi-sovereign interest in ensuring that women residents receive adequate contraceptive care.
She went on to rule that the IRFs likely violated the APA, for two reasons. First, the administration violated notice-and-comment rules in issuing the IRFs. The court rejected the government's argument that it had statutory authority to bypass notice-and-comment procedures, and that special circumstances justified bypassing those procedures. Next, the IRFs violated federal law, the ACA. In particular, the ACA mandates coverage for women's preventative care, and doesn't provide an exception for religious or moral beliefs. Moreover, the accommodation process doesn't violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (as the government maintained), and so there's no RFRA reason for the Religious Exemption Rule. (The government didn't even try to argue that the RFRA mandated the Moral Exemption Rule.)
Because the court held that the Commonwealth would likely succeed on its APA claims, it didn't rule on the constitutional claims.
The court went on to conclude that the Commonwealth demonstrated the other elements of a preliminary injunction, too.