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Supreme Ct.: Nuns Can Skip Obamacare Form, Pending Mandate Appeal

By Brett Snider, Esq. on January 24, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The nuns behind the Little Sisters of the Poor got a partial win on Friday, as the full U.S. Supreme Court ruled that they can avoid official government forms to sidestep Obamacare's contraceptive mandate.

In a page-long order, the High Court blocked the government from enforcing the contraceptive mandate against the objecting non-profit. The order also allowed the Sisters to send a letter declaring themselves to be a non-profit with religious objections rather than use the official government form.

Here's what the Supreme Court's order means as the Sisters' case moves forward:

Sotomayor's Temporary Injunction Extended

The Sisters were granted a temporary injunction by Justice Sonia Sotomayor on December 31. The injunction was granted to give the government time to prepare a response to the Sisters' argument that filling out a government form was a burden to their religious liberties.

Friday's order extends the temporary injunction, preventing the government from enforcing the contraceptive mandate on the Sisters (and presumably non-profits like them) until their case has been decided by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

This means the government will have to wait for the federal appellate court's decision before moving on the nuns -- although if the 10th Circuit's Hobby Lobby decision is any indication, the Denver-based appeals court is probably going to side with the Sisters.

Inform the Government 'in Writing'

What's somewhat odd about Friday's order is the proclamation that instead of using the one-page form to inform the government about their objections, the Sisters can simply do it "in writing."

No one is quite certain what this broad "in writing" requires of non-profits like the Sisters, but it seems to mean just sending a letter to the Secretary of Health and Human Services (currently Kathleen Sebelius) declaring your group to be a non-profit with religious objections to Obamacare's contraceptive mandate.

Perhaps the confusion in letter-writing and word choice is why the government chose to go with a standard form. But at least while the case is on appeal, the Sisters can choose which words they prefer in telling the government to back off.

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