December 27, 2012
Justice Sotomayor Denies Injunction in Health Care Religious Conflict Case
Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued an in-Chambers opinion yesterday in the case of Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. v. Sebelius (12A644). Hobby Lobby sought an injunction pending appeal to keep regulations under the Affordable Care Act from going into effect. These require insurance plans to cover contraception and other drugs and devices that could cause abortions. Hobby Lobby filed the original action in the Western District of Oklahoma on the grounds that providing such insurance coverage to its employees violated the religious beliefs of the owners of the closely held for-profit company. The injunction was denied at that level and the Tenth Circuit denied an application for an injunction pending appeal.
Justice Sotomayor reviewed the Court’s precedents and rules for granting such an application. She noted that the Court’s authority to issue such an injunction is derived from the All Writs Act, 28 U.S.C. §1651(a), and that the Court’s own Rules require that the power to issue the writ be used sparingly. Issuing the writ, she says, is not a matter of preserving the status quo but grants the relief the lower courts have denied up to now. The standard she cites in granting such relief is that which is necessary or appropriate to aid in the Court’s jurisdiction. Hobby Lobby does not satisfy the standard under previous litigation under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA), 42 U.S.C. §2000bb et seq.:
Moreover, the applicants correctly recognize that lower courts have diverged on whether to grant temporary injunctive relief to similarly situated plaintiffs raising similar claims, Application for Injunction Pending Appellate Review 25–26, and no court has issued a final decision granting permanent relief with respect to such claims. Second, while the applicants allege they will face irreparable harm if they are forced to choose between complying with the contraception-coverage requirement and paying significant fines, they cannot show that an injunction is necessary or appropriate to aid our jurisdiction. Even without an injunction pending appeal, the applicants may continue their challenge to the regulations in the lower courts. Following a final judgment, they may, if necessary, file a petition for a writ of certiorari in this Court.