Supreme Court Blocks Obamacare Mandate, Again, After Request From Denver Nuns

Mere hours before 2014 struck, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued a last-minute stay against Obamacare’s contraception mandate, meaning that certain Catholic groups won’t, for the time being, be required to offer contraceptive coverage in their insurance plans. On Dec. 31, Sotomayor granted a request from a Denver order of Catholic nuns to temporarily block, for religious organizations, the part of the Affordable Care Act that would require companies to pay for their employees' birth control.

Remember, Sotomayor didn’t strike down the mandate — she just temporarily blocked it from going into effect for one specific group. It will remain blocked until SCOTUS decides whether or not to hear a case brought by Hobby Lobby, which has brought a larger suit challenging the constitutionality of the mandate. It’s the third time in the last week a judge has ruled against the contraceptive mandate.

The New Year's Eve request was filed by the Little Sisters of the Poor, a group of Catholic nuns in Colorado, which argued that the Affordable Care Act’s contraception requirement violates the group’s religious beliefs. This has been a long-standing point of contention between the Obama administration and Catholic employers; the administration attempted to quell the controversy earlier by ruling that, in the case of religious objections, the cost of providing contraceptives to employees would fall on the insurers, not the employers themselves. However, this still requires religious employers to sign forms authorizing insurance companies to pay for contraceptives, and so many religious employers filed suit against the mandate.

One of those groups was Hobby Lobby, a for-profit company which was initially slapped with a multi-million dollar fine for refusing to comply with the mandate. The administration has argued that extending religious exemptions to for-profit companies would essentially gut the entire contraceptive mandate, but the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals waived Hobby Lobby’s fines in June, ruling that the contraceptive mandate violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act even with regard to for-profit companies.

Little Sisters of the Poor had requested that SCOTUS block the mandate until the Hobby Lobby case makes its way through the courts, and the request went directly to Sotomayor, as she’s the justice in charge of hearing emergency appeals from the 10th Circuit.

The injunction didn't apply to all Catholic groups, however, and it could expire as soon as Friday. The administration has until then to issue a response.