The remaining eight justices will consider seven related cases on
whether nonprofit groups that oppose the requirement on religious
grounds can object under a U.S. law called the Religious Freedom
Restoration Act to a compromise version of the requirement offered
by the Obama administration.
Among those mounting objections are the Little Sisters of the Poor,
an order of Roman Catholic nuns that runs care homes for the
The court, divided 4-4 between liberal and conservative justices
without the conservative Scalia, is set to hear the case on
Scalia was considered a reliable vote for the religious groups. In
2014, he was in the majority when the court ruled 5-4 that
family-owned companies run on religious principles, including craft
retailer Hobby Lobby Stores Inc, could object to the provision for
If the four conservatives who sided with Scalia in that case remain
unified, the best result the challengers could get would be a 4-4
split. That would leave in place lower-court rulings that favored
the Obama administration.
"Unless the court's four justices in the dissent in Hobby Lobby
dramatically change their minds, the likely worst outcome for the
government would be a 4-4 split," said Gregory Lipper, a lawyer with
Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which filed a
brief backing the Obama administration.
Lawyers for the challengers forecast that they can win, citing among
other things the fact that women can obtain alternative coverage via
Obamacare's online marketplace.
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"The idea that the government doesn't have some other way to do this
is really a pretty silly argument," said Mark Rienzi, a lawyer with
the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents the Little
The Christian groups object to a compromise first offered by the
federal government in 2013. It allows groups opposed to providing
insurance covering contraception on religious grounds to comply with
the law without actually paying for the coverage required by the
2010 Affordable Care Act, widely known as Obamacare.
Groups can certify they are opting out by signing a form, which they
submit to the government. The government then asks insurers to pick
up the tab.
The groups contend the accommodation infringes on their religious
rights because it forces them to authorize the coverage for their
employees, even if they are not paying for it.
A ruling is due by the end of June.
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)
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