WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Supreme Court’s third day of hearing arguments by telephone is its first chance at a high-profile case, this one involving the Affordable Care Act.
The justices are hearing a dispute Wednesday about Trump administration rules that would allow more employers who cite a religious or moral objection to opt out of providing no-cost birth control.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic the high court has been hearing arguments by phone, with audio of arguments available live to the public for the first time. On Monday the court heard a case about Booking.com’s ability to trademark its name, and on Tuesday the case was about federal money to fight AIDS around the world.
The stakes are higher Wednesday when the court will also for the first time hear two arguments. The session is expected to last approximately two hours.
Also noteworthy on Wednesday: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg plans to participate in arguments from a Maryland hospital. The court said Tuesday evening that Ginsburg was hospitalized with an infection caused by a gallstone and expects to be in the hospital for a day or two.
The dispute before the court Wednesday stems from former President Barack Obama’s health care law, under which most employers must cover birth control as a preventive service, at no charge to women in their health insurance plans.
The Obama administration exempted churches and houses of worship, such as churches, synagogues and mosques, from the requirement. And it created a method by which religiously affiliated organizations including hospitals, universities and charities could opt out of paying for contraception but women on their health plans would still get no-cost birth control. Some groups complained, however, that the opt-out process continued to violate their religious beliefs.
Trump administration officials in 2017 announced a rule change that allows many companies and organization with religious or moral objections to opt out of covering birth control without providing an alternate avenue for coverage. The rules were finalized in 2018. The government has estimated that the change would impact approximately 70,500 women who would lose contraception coverage in one year as a result.
New Jersey and Pennsylvania challenged the rules in court and a judge blocked them from going into effect. The judge found the administration did not follow proper procedures for issuing the rules. An appeals court agreed and the Trump administration appealed to the Supreme Court to step in as did the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of Catholic nuns that had been instrumental in challenging the Obama administration rules.
Even though the Trump rules remain blocked, a ruling by a federal judge in Texas in June already allows most people who object to covering contraception to avoid doing so.
Wednesday’s second argument is a free speech case involving a 1991 law aimed at protecting consumers from unwanted telemarketing calls. Political organizations that want to use automated calling to do things like make calls to encourage people to vote challenged the law as a violation of the First Amendment.