NEW YORK (AP) – Bronx-born U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor led the 60-second countdown and pushed the button that dropped the famed crystal ball in New York City's Times Square to ring in 2014.
Crowds jammed Times Square on Tuesday, braving bone-chilling cold and ultra-tight security for the chance to see Miley Cyrus, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis and Blondie and to be part of the sea of horn-tooting and hat-wearing humanity that filled the Crossroads of the World.
On New Year's Eve Sotomayor made headlines also by blocking a requirement that some religion-affiliated organizations provide health insurance that includes birth control. Her decision came only hours before the law's insurance coverage went into effect on New Year's Day.
The ruling, which came after federal court filings by Catholic-affiliated groups from around the nation in hopes of delaying the requirements, throws a part of the president's signature law into temporary disarray. At least one federal appeals court agreed with Sotomayor, issuing its own stay against part of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
The White House on Wednesday issued a statement saying that the administration is confident that its rules "strike the balance of providing women with free contraceptive coverage while preventing non-profit religious organizations with religious objections to contraceptive coverage from having to contract, arrange, pay, or refer for such coverage."
Sotomayor acted on a request from an organization of Catholic nuns in Denver, the Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged. Its request for an emergency stay had been denied earlier in the day by a federal appeals court.
The government is "temporarily enjoined from enforcing against applicants the contraceptive coverage requirements imposed by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act," Sotomayor said in the order.
Sotomayor has given government officials until 10 a.m. EST Friday to respond to her order. A decision on whether to make the temporary injunction permanent or dissolve it likely won't be made before then.
Under the health care law, most health insurance plans have to cover all FDA-approved contraceptives as preventive care for women. That means the coverage is provided free of charge.
Churches and other houses of worship are exempt from the birth control requirement, but affiliated institutions that serve the general public are not. That includes charitable organizations, universities and hospitals.
Sotomayor's decision to delay the contraceptive portion of the law was joined by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which also issued an emergency stay for Catholic-affiliated groups challenging the contraceptive provision, including the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., and Catholic University.
But one judge on the three-judge panel that made the decision, Judge David S. Tatel, said he would have denied their motion.
"Because I believe that appellants are unlikely to prevail on their claim that the challenged provision imposes a 'substantial burden' under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, I would deny their application for an injunction pending appeal," Tatel said.
The archdiocese praised the appeals court's action in a statement.
"This action by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit is in line with the rulings of courts all across the country which have held that the HHS mandate imposes a substantial and impermissible burden on the free exercise of religion," the archdiocese said. "These decisions also vindicate the pledge of the U.S. Catholic bishops to stand united in resolute defense of the first and most sacred freedom — religious liberty."
The Supreme Court already has decided to rule on whether businesses may use religious objections to escape a requirement to cover birth control for employees. That case, which involves Hobby Lobby Inc., an Oklahoma City-based arts and crafts chain with 13,000 full-time employees, is expected to be argued in March and decided by summer.
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.