Court revives Obamacare challenge

The Supreme Court has ordered the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals to examine the constitutionality of requirements in the Affordable Care Act.

By Bob Allen

The United States Supreme Court revived Liberty University’s lawsuit challenging Obamacare Nov. 26, returning the case to Virginia’s 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for consideration of issues not addressed when the high court upheld most of the Affordable Care Act in a 5-4 vote on June 28.

Liberty’s lawsuit is one of several that were dismissed when the Supreme Court said President Obama’s massive health-care overhaul was authorized by Congress’ power to levy taxes.

Liberty, an evangelical Christian school started by Baptist television preacher Jerry Falwell, then asked the high court to allow consideration of its claim that forcing the university to provide coverage of morning-after birth control pills for women violates its religious conviction that life begins at the moment of conception.

The U.S. Justice Department said in October the government would not object to the 4th Circuit’s consideration of Liberty’s First Amendment claim but believes it is without merit.

Matt Staver, dean of Liberty University’s law school and founder and chairman of the Liberty Counsel, which filed the lawsuit on the university’s behalf, said the latest decision by the Supreme Court “breathes new life into our challenge to Obamacare.”

“Congress exceeded its power by forcing every employer to provide federally mandated insurance,” Staver said in a press release. “But even more shocking is the abortion mandate, which collides with religious freedom and the rights of conscience.”

Last year the appellate court dismissed Liberty’s lawsuit on a technicality, finding that it lacked jurisdiction under the Anti-Injunction Act, which prohibits courts from considering any lawsuit filed in an attempt to avoid paying a tax. The Supreme Court rejected that view by later ruling on Obamacare.

The lower-court’s dismissal did not address the university’s argument that the government’s employer and coverage mandates tread on rights established in the U.S. Constitution and legislation including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The Affordable Care Act, a comprehensive bill spanning 900 pages signed into law on March 23, 2010, requires employers like Liberty to pay for health-care coverage that provides, without co-payment, “preventive services” including birth-control methods approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Some people believe that emergency or “morning after” contraceptives approved by the FDA may function by preventing an egg that has been fertilized from implanting in the womb. The law exempts churches that oppose artificial birth control altogether or forms they consider to be abortifacients, but not large religious institutions that hire significant numbers of people from outside the faith group and serve a constituency larger than church members.

Observers say returning the case back to the 4th Circuit could put it on a track to return to the Supreme Court by late 2013.