On May 21, 2012, the Catholic Archbishop of Washington and several affiliated Catholic organizations filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The plaintiffs sued the federal government under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (42 U.S.C. § 2000bb), the Administrative Procedure Act (5 U.S.C. § 706(2)), and the First Amendment. The plaintiffs, represented by private counsel, sought to enjoin enforcement of provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) extending universal contraception coverage in employer-sponsored private health insurance coverage. The plaintiffs contended that this mandatory contraception coverage violated their sincerely held religious beliefs.
On January 25, 2013, Judge Amy Berman Jackson granted the government's motion to dismiss the plaintiffs' claims for a lack of ripeness, as regulations regarding the contraceptive mandate were under review by the Department of Health and Human Services.
On March 25, 2013, the plaintiffs appealed the court's dismissal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. On October 31, 2013, the Court of Appeals dismissed the plaintiffs' claims as moot due to the newly issued regulations regarding the ACA contraception mandate.
On September 20, 2013, the plaintiffs refiled this case in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, joined by a number of additional affiliated Catholic nonprofit organizations, objecting to the final regulations updating the contraceptive mandate issued on June 28, 2013. They alleged that under the previous version of the regulations, nonprofit organizations affiliated with a house of worship that benefited from its self-insured plan could also benefit from its exemption to the mandate, and asserted this shelter was no longer available.
Similar to the initial complaint, the plaintiffs objected to being required to notify their insurers and or third-party health insurance administrators of their objection to the contraceptive services mandate, and asserted violations of the RFRA, APA, and their rights under the First Amendment.
On December 21, 2013, the plaintiffs appealed this case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, and on December 23, 2013, the District Court denied the plaintiffs’ request for an injunction pending appeal.
On January 17, 2014, the government cross-appealed to the DC Circuit Court (14-5021). On January 23, 2014, the plaintiffs’ appeal was consolidated with the the government’s cross-appeal, and Priests for Life v. Sebelius
. The Court of Appeals (Judge Cornelia T.L. Pillard) ruled on November 14, 2014, that the accommodation the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has designed for religious nonprofits to comply with the contraceptive coverage mandate does not burden the plaintiffs' religious freedom. 772 F.3d 229 (D.C. Cir. 2014). On May 20, 2015, the Court of Appeals denied the plaintiffs' request for rehearing en banc, reasoning that the result in Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius
did not compel them to credit the plaintiffs’ misinterpretation of the regulation the plaintiffs were challenging. 808 F.3d 1. On June 10, 2015, the Circuit Court ordered that the mandate be stayed through August 26, 2015, pending petition for writ of certiorari from the Supreme Court.
On November 6, 2015, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case in order to consider whether notifying the federal government by signing a form identifying the employer as a religious nonprofit that objects to the contraceptive services mandate (so that the government can work with the insurer or benefits provider to ensure employees have contraceptive coverage) violates RFRA, or constitutes the least restrictive means of achieving a compelling government interest. This case was consolidated with six other cases dealing with this issue. Together, the cases are known as Zubik v. Burwell [II]
This case was argued on March 23, 2016. On March 29, 2016, in an unusual move, the Supreme Court directed the parties to file supplemental briefs suggesting a solution to their disagreement, in which employees could still receive contraception coverage without employers giving any notice to the government. On May 16, 2016, the Court issued a per curiam order remanding all seven cases to their respective courts of appeals, ordering the lower courts to give the parties time to come to agreement on an approach that that "accommodates petitioners’ religious exercise while at the same time ensuring that women covered by petitioners’ health plans 'receive full and equal health coverage, including contraceptive coverage.'" 136 S.Ct 1557, 1560. The Court took no position on the merits of this case.
This case is ongoing. Wyatt Fore - 03/29/2013
Mallory Jones - 04/24/2014
Kate Craddock - 06/12/2016