Supreme Court appears split along ideological lines during arguments in ObamaCare contraception case

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Familiar ideological lines emerged Wednesday as the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two consolidated cases involving competing interests related to the Affordable Care Act: birth control and religious liberty.

The law, commonly known as ObamaCare, requires employers to provide health insurance that covers contraception but provides an exemption for religious organizations. At issue before the court Wednesday were challenges to Trump administration rules making it easier for some for-profit companies and religious-affiliated groups -- including universities, hospitals, and charities -- to opt out of providing contraception coverage to employees.


"Women need seamless, no-cost contraception coverage," Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said in a firm voice, as she participated from her hospital room following gall bladder treatment. She said the Trump administration’s rules "leave the women to hunt" for other coverage options and was not what Congress wanted when it passed the Affordable Care Act.

"You have tossed entirely to the wind what Congress considered to be essential, that women be provided this service, with no hassle and no cost to them," Ginsburg told U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco. "You are shifting the employers' religious beliefs... onto employees who may not share those beliefs."

Justice Sonia Sotomayor echoed Ginsburg’s strongly worded comments.

“How can the government support an exemption for women receiving seamless coverage?” she asked.

As a hypothetical, Sotomayor wondered whether companies or charities could opt out of paying for vaccines to cover a coronavirus vaccine for employees, noting some people have faith-based objections to such preventive medical options.

Justice Clarence Thomas expressed his disdain for nationwide injunctions, where individual federal judges can put Executive Branch policies on hold indefinitely, while a case is litigated. Lower courts have done just that here, preventing the administration from enforcing its ACA exemptions. Thomas has suggested those injunctions are an abuse of judicial discretion.

Chief Justice John Roberts tried to take a middle ground, repeatedly asking whether there was some kind of accommodation that could be reached by the government that would address the concerns of both employer and employee without the courts getting involved.

"Is it really the case there is no way to resolve these differences?" he asked.

A ruling in the cases, which are Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania and Trump v. Pennsylvania, are expected by the end of June.


Wednesday was the third day of the court conducting oral arguments via teleconference, which is what allowed Ginsburg to participate from her Baltimore hospital room. Instead of justices jumping in with rapid-fire questions as the attorneys for each side present their cases, this format has had justices taking turns and asking questions in order of seniority.

Thomas, known for almost never asking questions during oral arguments, has been more active than usual this week, although a moment early in Wednesday’s case made it seem at first that he was returning to his old way.

When Roberts called on Thomas to ask a question, he was met with silence.

“Justice Thomas?” Roberts asked, with no answer. “Justice Thomas?” he asked again, before eventually saying, “Well we’ll get back to Justice Thomas,” moving on to Ginsburg.


It is unclear whether Thomas intended to remain silent or was having technological issues, but he did ask a question after Ginsburg’s turn was up.

The Supreme Court will hear a second case Wednesday having to do with “robocalls” and whether a law against them violates the First Amendment when applied to political organizations conducting fundraising.

Fox News' Shannon Bream contributed to this report.