By Ryan Blodgett
As CNN reports, Wednesday night the Supreme Court turned down an emergency appeal in a case over the constitutionality of requiring employers to provide employees with health insurance that includes coverage for emergency contraception.
When a new law or policy goes into effect, those who are directly affected by the law – those who have “standing,” to use the legal term – may sue in federal court to ask that the court find the law unconstitutional. A law is unconstitutional if it overly infringes on one or more of the rights listed in the Constitution, especially the Bill of Rights and other amendments, or otherwise exceeds the power of the government.
When challenging the constitutionality of a law, the plaintiff (that’s the party bringing the law suit) can ask the court for a preliminary injunction. This is a way of blocking the implementation of the law during the course of the trial. Essentially, the plaintiff must show that the law would cause irreparable harm and that the plaintiff is probably going to win the substantive constitutional law case in the long run. Trials and subsequent appeals often take years, so this is a really important procedural tool to protect people from having their rights infringed upon while they are tied up in litigation.
As part of the Affordable Care Act, many employers, as of January 1, will be required to provide their employees with health insurance or pay a substantial penalty. Among other things, this health care must include coverage for emergency contraception — aka the morning after pill. The owners of Hobby Lobby, an arts and craft store chain with over 500 locations, really don’t like this requirement.
Earlier this year, Hobby Lobby sued the federal government to block the requirement that they provide their employees with health coverage that includes access to emergency contraception. They (incorrectly) claim that the morning after pill is an abortion causing drug, and state that such drugs “go against our faith.”
The courts did not grant Hobby Lobby a preliminary injunction, which would have allowed them to ignore the emergency contraception coverage requirements during the rest of the law suit. Because the law goes into effect on January 1, Hobby Lobby was able to pursue an emergency appeal up to the Supreme Court, after losing such an appeal at the Circuit level (the mid-level court of appeals between the trial court and the Supreme Court).
Justice Sonia Sotomayor decided this emergency appeal against Hobby Lobby, stating that the company had failed to meet the demanding standards necessary to block the law. Hobby Lobby will, however, be able to continue the suit in the lower courts. They will just have to start providing health coverage in the meantime, or face pretty steep fines.