Has the last word been written on the constitutionality of Obamacare?

January 23, 2013

Thomson Reuters LegalEditor’s note: Over the next few weeks we will be featuring posts from our Westlaw Editorial team. This is the team that creates editorial enhancements for caselaw, including headnotes and Key Numbers. Enjoy the series: Westlaw Editorial’s Top Cases of 2012.

The first blog entry in this series discussed the Supreme Court’s decision upholding the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which imposes an individual mandate to purchase health insurance, as a valid exercise of Congress’s taxing power. But the ACA, popularly known as Obamacare, is being challenged in lower courts on other grounds. Those challenges could lead to a future Supreme Court case on the constitutionality of the ACA.

Two district court cases reached opposite results on the question whether a corporation and its owners were entitled to a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the ACA’s mandate that group insurance plans provide approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures, and patient education and counseling for women with reproductive capacity.

In Newland v. Sebelius, a federal district court in Colorado concluded the corporation and its owners were likely to succeed in their action alleging that the mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), the First Amendment protection of religion, the Fifth Amendment protection of due process, and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). Accordingly, the district court issued a preliminary injunction.

Newland v. Sebelius headnote

Our synopsis for this case, and headnotes 12, 13, 14, and 18, isolate each of the four elements considered by the court in granting a preliminary injunction: irreparable harm, the balance of harms, the public interest, and the existence of a substantial likelihood of success on the merits.

Meanwhile, in Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. v. Sebelius, a federal district court in Oklahoma denied a preliminary injunction, in a case in which a corporation and its owners asserted religious freedom violations from being required to provide health insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs and devices, as well as related education and counseling. Subsequently, the Tenth Circuit and a single Justice of the Supreme Court denied the corporation’s and owners’ request for an injunction pending the resolution of their appeal.

Here, the synopsis, and headnotes 16, 25, 26, and 33, capture four holdings from the district court decision:

Whether this issue reaches the Supreme Court could depend in part on whether the federal or state appellate courts reach differing conclusions on the constitutionality of the contraceptive coverage mandate.