Zubik v. Burwell,
578 U.S. ___ (2016)

Annotate this Case
Justia Opinion Summary

Employers must cover certain contraceptives as part of their health plans unless the employer submits a form to their insurer or to the federal government, stating that they object on religious grounds to providing contraceptive coverage. The plaintiff-employers alleged that submitting this notice substantially burdened the exercise of their religion, in violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993,, 42 U.S.C. 2000bb. In supplemental briefing, the parties acknowledged that contraceptive coverage could be provided to employees, through insurance companies, without such notice. Plaintiffs “need to do nothing more than contract for a plan that does not include coverage for some or all forms of contraception,” and employees could receive cost-free contraceptive coverage from the same insurance company, seamlessly, with the rest of their coverage. Based on these stipulations, the Supreme Court vacated the judgments below and remanded to determine an approach that will accommodate the employers’ religious exercise while ensuring that women covered by their health plans “receive full and equal health coverage, including contraceptive coverage.” The Court did not decide whether the employers’ religious exercise has been substantially burdened, whether the government has a compelling interest, or whether the current regulations are the least restrictive means of serving that interest.

NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in the preliminary print of the United States Reports. Readers are requested to notify the Reporter of Decisions, Supreme Court of the United States, Washington, D. C. 20543, of any typographical or other formal errors, in order that corrections may be made before the preliminary print goes to press.

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

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Nos. 14–1418, 14–1453, 14–1505, 15–35, 15–105, 15–119, and 15–191

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DAVID A. ZUBIK, et al., PETITIONERS

14–1418v.

SYLVIA BURWELL, SECRETARY OF HEALTH ANDHUMAN SERVICES, et al.;

on writ of certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the third circuit

PRIESTS FOR LIFE, et al., PETITIONERS

14–1453v.

DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMANSERVICES, et al.;

on writ of certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the district of columbia circuit

ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF WASHINGTON, et al., PETITIONERS

14–1505v.

SYLVIA BURWELL, SECRETARY OF HEALTHAND HUMAN SERVICES, et al.;

on writ of certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the district of columbia circuit

EAST TEXAS BAPTIST UNIVERSITY, et al., PETITIONERS

15–35v.

SYLVIA BURWELL, SECRETARY OF HEALTH ANDHUMAN SERVICES, et al.;

on writ of certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the fifth circuit

LITTLE SISTERS OF THE POOR HOME FORTHE AGED, DENVER, COLORADO, et al., PETITIONERS

15–105v.

SYLVIA BURWELL, SECRETARY OF HEALTH ANDHUMAN SERVICES, et al.;

on writ of certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the tenth circuit

SOUTHERN NAZARENE UNIVERSITY, et al., PETITIONERS

15–119v.

SYLVIA BURWELL, SECRETARY OF HEALTH ANDHUMAN SERVICES, et al.; AND

on writ of certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the tenth circuit

GENEVA COLLEGE, PETITIONER

15–191v.

SYLVIA BURWELL, SECRETARY OF HEALTH ANDHUMAN SERVICES, et al.

on writ of certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the third circuit

[May 16, 2016]

Per Curiam.

Petitioners are primarily nonprofit organizations that provide health insurance to their employees. Federal regulations require petitioners to cover certain contraceptives as part of their health plans, unless petitioners submit a form either to their insurer or to the Federal Government, stating that they object on religious grounds to providing contraceptive coverage. Petitioners allege that submitting this notice substantially burdens the exercise of their religion, in violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, 107Stat. 1488, 42 U. S. C. §2000bb et seq.

Following oral argument, the Court requested supplemental briefing from the parties addressing “whether contraceptive coverage could be provided to petitioners’ employees, through petitioners’ insurance companies, without any such notice from petitioners.” Post, p. ___. Both petitioners and the Government now confirm that such an option is feasible. Petitioners have clarified that their religious exercise is not infringed where they “need to do nothing more than contract for a plan that does not include coverage for some or all forms of contraception,” even if their employees receive cost-free contraceptive coverage from the same insurance company. Supplemental Brief for Petitioners 4. The Government has confirmed that the challenged procedures “for employers with insured plans could be modified to operate in the manner posited in the Court’s order while still ensuring that the affected women receive contraceptive coverage seamlessly, together with the rest of their health coverage.” Supplemental Brief for Respondents 14–15.

In light of the positions asserted by the parties in their supplemental briefs, the Court vacates the judgments below and remands to the respective United States Courts of Appeals for the Third, Fifth, Tenth, and D. C. Circuits. Given the gravity of the dispute and the substantial clarification and refinement in the positions of the parties, the parties on remand should be afforded an opportunity to arrive at an approach going forward that accommodates petitioners’ religious exercise while at the same time ensuring that women covered by petitioners’ health plans “receive full and equal health coverage, including contraceptive coverage.” Id., at 1. We anticipate that the Courts of Appeals will allow the parties sufficient time to resolve any outstanding issues between them.

The Court finds the foregoing approach more suitable than addressing the significantly clarified views of the parties in the first instance. Although there may still be areas of disagreement between the parties on issues of implementation, the importance of those areas of potential concern is uncertain, as is the necessity of this Court’s involvement at this point to resolve them. This Court has taken similar action in other cases in the past. See, e.g., Madison County v. Oneida Indian Nation of N. Y., 562 U. S. 42, 43 (2011) (per curiam) (vacating and remanding for the Second Circuit to “address, in the first instance, whether to revisit its ruling on sovereign immunity in light of [a] new factual development, and—if necessary—proceed to address other questions in the case consistent with its sovereign immunity ruling”); Kiyemba v. Obama, 559 U. S. 131, 132 (2010) (per curiam) (vacating and remanding for the D. C. Circuit to “determine, in the first instance, what further proceedings in that court or in the District Court are necessary and appropriate for the full and prompt disposition of the case in light of the new developments”); Villarreal v. United States, 572 U. S. ___ (2014) (vacating and remanding to the Fifth Circuit “for further consideration in light of the position asserted by the Solicitor General in his brief for the United States”).

The Court expresses no view on the merits of the cases. In particular, the Court does not decide whether petitioners’ religious exercise has been substantially burdened, whether the Government has a compelling interest, or whether the current regulations are the least restrictive means of serving that interest.

Nothing in this opinion, or in the opinions or orders of the courts below, is to affect the ability of the Government to ensure that women covered by petitioners’ health plans “obtain, without cost, the full range of FDA approved contraceptives.” Wheaton College v. Burwell, 573 U. S. ___, ___ (2014) (slip op., at 1). Through this litigation, petitioners have made the Government aware of their view that they meet “the requirements for exemption from the contraceptive coverage requirement on religious grounds.” Id., at ___ (slip op., at 2). Nothing in this opinion, or in the opinions or orders of the courts below, “precludes the Government from relying on this notice, to the extent it considers it necessary, to facilitate the provision of full contraceptive coverage” going forward. Ibid. Because the Government may rely on this notice, the Government may not impose taxes or penalties on petitioners for failure to provide the relevant notice.

The judgments of the Courts of Appeals are vacated, and the cases are remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

It is so ordered.

Primary Holding

When balancing the right of employees to receive contraceptives through the health insurance plans provided by their employers against the right of employers to exercise religion under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, courts must find an approach to accommodate the employers' religious exercise while ensuring that female employees receive full and equal health coverage that includes contraceptives.

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