Yesterday in an in-chambers opinion, Justice Sotomayor declined Hobby Lobby’s request for an emergency application for injunction pending appeal of the Tenth Circuit’s decision denying Hobby Lobby’s request for preliminary injunction.
That was a legal mouthful, so here’s what it means:
Hobby Lobby wanted to block application of the birth control benefit because of Jesus. (Writing for RH Reality Check, I discussed Hobby Lobby’s complaint here.) The district court said no. (Writing for RH Reality Check, I discussed that decision here.) Hobby Lobby appealed to the Tenth Circuit. The Tenth Circuit also said no. (Writing for RH Reality Check, Jessica Mason Pielko discussed that decision here.)
Still unsatisfied, Hobby Lobby filed an emergency application with SCOTUS, seeking an injunction to block the birth control benefit — even though it already lost that argument… twice. In an in-chambers opinion (which means an opinion written by an individual justice acting alone) Justice Sotomayor said no, essentially stating that there is no good reason that Hobby Lobby can’t just wait and see how its case proceeds in the lower courts:
[A] request for an injunction pending appeal “‘does not simply suspend judicial alteration of the status quo but grants judicial intervention that has been withheld by lower courts.’” Accordingly, a Circuit Justice may issue an injunction only when it is “[n]ecessary or appropriate in aid of our jurisdiction” and “the legal rights at issue are indisputably clear.” Applicants do not satisfy the demanding standard for the extraordinary relief they seek.
First, whatever the ultimate merits of the applicants’ claims, their entitlement to relief is not “indisputably clear.” This Court has not previously addressed similar RFRA or free exercise claims brought by closely held for-profit corporations and their controlling shareholders alleging that the mandatory provision of certain employee benefits substantially burdens their exercise of religion. Moreover, the applicants correctly recognize that lower courts have diverged on whether to grant temporary injunctive relief to similarly situated plaintiffs raising similar claims,… 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. (internal citations omitted.)
Sotomayor’s denial was routine and grounded in technical arguments about the Court’s jurisdiction. Basically, (and in non-legalese), the issues presented in these birth control benefit lawsuits are novel, lower courts are all over the place in adjudicating the lawsuits, and Hobby Lobby will just have to settle down and ride out the process.
I guarantee that conservatives and Forced Birthers will try to make a stink about the fact that Sotomayor acted alone in denying Hobby Lobby’s appeal. Don’t fall for it. This is nothing more than routine Supreme Court business. Hobby Lobby will get its day in court and it damn well knows it. I doubt Hobby Lobby’s attorneys thought for a second that the Supreme Court would grant its emergency injunction — they simply wanted to be able to complain that the Supreme Court wouldn’t grant the injunction because President Obama hates your religious freedoms.
The bottom line is this: Hobby Lobby will be able to argue the merits of its case in district court. And should Hobby Lobby lose on the merits in district court, it can appeal to the Tenth Circuit. And should Hobby Lobby lose again (which it will… hopefully), it can ask the Supremes to hear the case at that time.
Ultimately, the SCOTUS ruling is neither a huge win for the Obama administration nor a grave loss for Hobby Lobby and religious interlopers. The Tenth Circuit’s order, however, should provide some comfort for birth control enthusiasts — as Jessica Mason Pielko noted:
The appeals court has not yet ruled on the merits of Hobby Lobby’s case, but the language in this order suggests the court is skeptical of claims that the mandate represents any true burden to businesses like Hobby Lobby. “We do not think there is a substantial likelihood that this court will extend the reach of (the Religious Freedom Restoration Act) to encompass the independent conduct of third parties with whom the plaintiffs have only a commercial relationship,” the court said in its ruling. Further, the court held, “[P]laintiffs have not cited, and the court has not found, any case concluding that secular, for-profit corporations such as Hobby Lobby and Mardel have a constitutional right to the free exercise of religion.”
So, it looks good. Hooray!
I know I am becoming a bit of a contraception mandate/birth control benefit drone, but I find these legal questions fascinating. Do brick and mortar buildings have feelings and can businesses exercise religious conscience? Will Citizens United provide for-profit purportedly religious organizations any cover? Did the Obama Administration shoot itself in the foot by compromising with the Catholic Bishops and thus conceding that paying for contraception is participation in sin? Is the Catholic Church full of shit?
Annie, are you okay?
Well, she will be if she can get some goddamn birth control from her employer without having a bunch of religious wingnuts breathing down her neck, mirite?[cross-posted at ABLC]