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
Nos. 19–431 and 19–454
LITTLE SISTERS OF THE POOR SAINTS PETER AND PAUL HOME, PETITIONER
PENNSYLVANIA, et al.
DONALD J. TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, et al., PETITIONERS
PENNSYLVANIA, et al.
on writs of certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the third circuit
[July 8, 2020]
Justice Thomas delivered the opinion of the Court.
In these consolidated cases, we decide whether the Government created lawful exemptions from a regulatory requirement implementing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (ACA),
119. The requirement at issue obligates certain employers to provide contraceptive coverage to their employees through their group health plans. Though contraceptive coverage is not required by (or even mentioned in) the ACA provision at issue, the Government mandated such coverage by promulgating interim final rules (IFRs) shortly after the ACA’s passage. This requirement is known as the contraceptive mandate.
After six years of protracted litigation, the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and the Treasury (Departments)—which jointly administer the relevant ACA provision[1
]—exempted certain employers who have religious and conscientious objections from this agency-created mandate. The Third Circuit concluded that the Departments lacked statutory authority to promulgate these exemptions and affirmed the District Court’s nationwide preliminary injunction. This decision was erroneous. We hold that the Departments had the authority to provide exemptions from the regulatory contraceptive requirements for employers with religious and conscientious objections. We accordingly reverse the Third Circuit’s judgment and remand with instructions to dissolve the nationwide preliminary injunction.
The ACA’s contraceptive mandate—a product of agency regulation—has existed for approximately nine years. Litigation surrounding that requirement has lasted nearly as long. In light of this extensive history, we begin by summarizing the relevant background.
The ACA requires covered employers to offer “a group health plan or group health insurance coverage” that provides certain “minimum essential coverage.”
26 U. S. C. §5000A(f )(2); §§4980H(a), (c)(2). Employers who do not comply face hefty penalties, including potential fines of $100 per day for each affected employee. §§4980D(a)–(b); see also Burwell
v. Hobby Lobby Stores
573 U.S. 682
, 696–697 (2014). These cases concern regulations promulgated under a provision of the ACA that requires covered employers to provide women with “preventive care and screenings” without “any cost sharing requirements.” 42 U. S. C. §300gg–13(a)(4).[2
The statute does not define “preventive care and screenings,” nor does it include an exhaustive or illustrative list of such services. Thus, the statute itself does not explicitly require coverage for any specific form of “preventive care.” Hobby Lobby
, 573 U. S., at 697. Instead, Congress stated that coverage must include “such additional preventive care and screenings . . . as provided for in comprehensive guidelines supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration” (HRSA), an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). §300gg–13(a)(4). At the time of the ACA’s enactment, these guidelines were not yet written. As a result, no specific forms of preventive care or screenings were (or could be) referred to or incorporated by reference.
Soon after the ACA’s passage, the Departments began promulgating rules related to §300gg–13(a)(4). But in doing so, the Departments did not proceed through the notice and comment rulemaking process, which the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) often requires before an agency’s regulation can “have the force and effect of law.” Perez
v. Mortgage Bankers Assn.
575 U.S. 92, 96 (2015) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also
5 U. S. C. §553. Instead, the Departments invoked the APA’s good cause exception, which permits an agency to dispense with notice and comment and promulgate an IFR that carries immediate legal force. §553(b)(3)(B).
The first relevant IFR, promulgated in July 2010, primarily focused on implementing other aspects of §300gg–13. 75 Fed. Reg. 41728. The IFR indicated that HRSA planned to develop its Preventive Care Guidelines (Guidelines) by August 2011. Ibid.
However, it did not mention religious exemptions or accommodations of any kind.
As anticipated, HRSA released its first set of Guidelines in August 2011. The Guidelines were based on recommendations compiled by the Institute of Medicine (now called the National Academy of Medicine), “a nonprofit group of volunteer advisers.” Hobby Lobby
, 573 U. S., at 697. The Guidelines included the contraceptive mandate, which required health plans to provide coverage for all contraceptive methods and sterilization procedures approved by the Food and Drug Administration as well as related education and counseling. 77 Fed. Reg. 8725 (2012).
The same day the Guidelines were issued, the Departments amended the 2010 IFR. 76 Fed. Reg. 46621 (2011). When the 2010 IFR was originally published, the Departments began receiving comments from numerous religious employers expressing concern that the Guidelines would “impinge upon their religious freedom” if they included contraception. Id.
, at 46623. As just stated, the Guidelines ultimately did contain contraceptive coverage, thus making the potential impact on religious freedom a reality. In the amended IFR, the Departments determined that “it [was] appropriate that HRSA . . . tak[e] into account the [mandate’s] effect on certain religious employers” and concluded that HRSA had the discretion to do so through the creation of an exemption. Ibid.
The Departments then determined that the exemption should cover religious employers, and they set out a four-part test to identify which employers qualified. The last criterion required the entity to be a church, an integrated auxiliary, a convention or association of churches, or “the exclusively religious activities of any religious order.” Ibid.
HRSA created an exemption for these employers the same day. 78 Fed. Reg. 39871 (2013).
Because of the narrow focus on churches, this first exemption is known as the church exemption.
The Guidelines were scheduled to go into effect for plan years beginning on August 1, 2012. 77 Fed. Reg. 8725–8726. But in February 2012, before the Guidelines took effect, the Departments promulgated a final rule that temporarily prevented the Guidelines from applying to certain religious nonprofits. Specifically, the Departments stated their intent to promulgate additional rules to “accommodat[e] non-exempted, non-profit organizations’ religious objections to covering contraceptive services.” Id.
, at 8727. Until that rulemaking occurred, the 2012 rule also provided a temporary safe harbor to protect such employers. Ibid.
The safe harbor covered nonprofits “whose plans have consistently not covered all or the same subset of contraceptive services for religious reasons.”[3
] Thus, the nonprofits who availed themselves of this safe harbor were not subject to the contraceptive mandate when it first became effective. The Departments promulgated another final rule in 2013 that is relevant to these cases in two ways. First, after reiterating that §300gg–13(a)(4) authorizes HRSA “to issue guidelines in a manner that exempts group health plans established or maintained by religious employers,” the Departments “simplif[ied]” and “clarif[ied]” the definition of a religious employer. 78 Fed. Reg. 39873.[4
] Second, pursuant to that same authority, the Departments provided the anticipated accommodation for eligible religious organizations, which the regulation defined as organizations that “(1) [o]ppos[e] providing coverage for some or all of the contraceptive services . . . on account of religious objections; (2) [are] organized and operat[e] as . . . nonprofit entit[ies]; (3) hol[d] [themselves] out as . . . religious organization[s]; and (4) self-certif[y] that [they] satisf[y] the first three criteria.” Id.
, at 39874. The accommodation required an eligible organization to provide a copy of the self-certification form to its health insurance issuer, which in turn would exclude contraceptive coverage from the group health plan and provide payments to beneficiaries for contraceptive services separate from the health plan. Id.
, at 39878. The Departments stated that the accommodation aimed to “protec[t]” religious organizations “from having to contract, arrange, pay, or refer for [contraceptive] coverage” in a way that was consistent with and did not violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA),
42 U. S. C. §2000bb et seq.
78 Fed. Reg. 39871, 39886–39887. This accommodation is referred to as the self-certification accommodation.
Shortly after the Departments promulgated the 2013 final rule, two religious nonprofits run by the Little Sisters of the Poor (Little Sisters) challenged the self-certification accommodation. The Little Sisters “are an international congregation of Roman Catholic women religious” who have operated homes for the elderly poor in the United States since 1868. See Mission Statement: Little Sisters of the Poor, http://www.littlesistersofthepoor.org/mission-statement. They feel called by their faith to care for their elderly residents regardless of “faith, finances, or frailty.” Brief for Residents and Families of Residents at Homes of the Little Sisters of the Poor as Amici Curiae
14. The Little Sisters endeavor to treat all residents “as if they were Jesus [Christ] himself, cared for as family, and treated with dignity until God calls them to his home.” Complaint ¶14 in Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged
, No. 1:13–cv–02611 (D Colo.), p. 5 (Complaint).
Consistent with their Catholic faith, the Little Sisters hold the religious conviction “that deliberately avoiding reproduction through medical means is immoral.” Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged
, 794 F.3d 1151, 1167 (CA10 2015). They challenged the self-certification accommodation, claiming that completing the certification form would force them to violate their religious beliefs by “tak[ing] actions that directly cause others to provide contraception or appear to participate in the Departments’ delivery scheme.” Id.
, at 1168. As a result, they alleged that the self-certification accommodation violated RFRA. Under RFRA, a law that substantially burdens the exercise of religion must serve “a compelling governmental interest” and be “the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.” §§2000bb–1(a)–(b). The Court of Appeals disagreed that the self-certification accommodation substantially burdened the Little Sisters’ free exercise rights and thus rejected their RFRA claim. Little Sisters
, 794 F. 3d, at 1160.
The Little Sisters were far from alone in raising RFRA challenges to the self-certification accommodation. Religious nonprofit organizations and educational institutions across the country filed a spate of similar lawsuits, most resulting in rulings that the accommodation did not violate RFRA. See, e.g.
, East Texas Baptist Univ.
, 793 F.3d 449 (CA5 2015); Geneva College
, U. S. Dept. of Health and Human Servs.
, 778 F.3d 422 (CA3 2015); Priests for Life
v. United States Dept. of Health and Human Servs.
, 772 F.3d 229 (CADC 2014); Michigan Catholic Conference
, 755 F.3d 372 (CA6 2014); University of Notre Dame
, 743 F.3d 547 (CA7 2014); but see Sharpe Holdings
v. United States Dept. of Health and Human Servs.
, 801 F.3d 927 (CA8 2015); Dordt College
, 801 F.3d 946 (CA8 2015). We granted certiorari in cases from four Courts of Appeals to decide the RFRA question. Zubik
, 578 U. S. ___, ___ (2016) (per curiam
). Ultimately, however, we opted to remand the cases without deciding that question. In supplemental briefing, the Government had “confirm[ed]” that “ ‘contraceptive coverage could be provided to petitioners’ employees, through petitioners’ insurance companies, without any . . . notice from petitioners.’ ” Id.
, at ___ (slip op., at 3). Petitioners, for their part, had agreed that such an approach would not violate their free exercise rights. Ibid.
Accordingly, because all parties had accepted that an alternative approach was “feasible,” ibid.
, we directed the Government to “accommodat[e] 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 ___ (slip op., at 4) (internal quotation marks omitted).
was not the only relevant ruling from this Court about the contraceptive mandate. As the Little Sisters and numerous others mounted their challenges to the self-certification accommodation, a host of other entities challenged the contraceptive mandate itself as a violation of RFRA. See, e.g.
, Hobby Lobby Stores
, 723 F.3d 1114 (CA10 2013) (en banc); Korte
, 735 F.3d 654 (CA7 2013); Gilardi
v. United States Dept. of Health and Human Servs.
, 733 F.3d 1208 (CADC 2013); Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp.
v. Secretary of U. S. Dept. of Health and Human Servs.
, 724 F.3d 377 (CA3 2013); Autocam Corp.
, 730 F.3d 618 (CA6 2013). This Court granted certiorari in two cases involving three closely held corporations to decide whether the mandate violated RFRA. Hobby Lobby
573 U.S. 682
The individual respondents in Hobby Lobby
opposed four methods of contraception covered by the mandate. They sincerely believed that human life begins at conception and that, because the challenged methods of contraception risked causing the death of a human embryo, providing those methods of contraception to employees would make the employers complicit in abortion. Id.
, at 691, 720. We held that the mandate substantially burdened respondents’ free exercise, explaining that “[if] the owners comply with the HHS mandate, they believe they will be facilitating abortions, and if they do not comply, they will pay a very heavy price.” Id.
, at 691. “If these consequences do not amount to a substantial burden,” we stated, “it is hard to see what would.” Ibid.
We also held that the mandate did not utilize the least restrictive means, citing the self-certification accommodation as a less burdensome alternative. Id.
, at 730–731.
Thus, as the Departments began the task of reformulating rules related to the contraceptive mandate, they did so not only under Zubik
’s direction to accommodate religious exercise, but also against the backdrop of Hobby Lobby
’s pronouncement that the mandate, standing alone, violated RFRA as applied to religious entities with complicity-based objections.
In 2016, the Departments attempted to strike the proper balance a third time, publishing a request for information on ways to comply with Zubik
. 81 Fed. Reg. 47741. This attempt proved futile, as the Departments ultimately concluded that “no feasible approach” had been identified. Dept. of Labor, FAQs About Affordable Care Act Implementation Part 36, p. 4 (2017). The Departments maintained their position that the self-certification accommodation was consistent with RFRA because it did not impose a substantial burden and, even if it did, it utilized the least restrictive means of achieving the Government’s interests. Id.
, at 4–5.
In 2017, the Departments tried yet again to comply with Zubik
, this time by promulgating the two IFRs that served as the impetus for this litigation. The first IFR significantly broadened the definition of an exempt religious employer to encompass an employer that “objects . . . based on its sincerely held religious beliefs,” “to its establishing, maintaining, providing, offering, or arranging [for] coverage or payments for some or all contraceptive services.” 82 Fed. Reg. 47812 (2017). Among other things, this definition included for-profit and publicly traded entities. Because they were exempt, these employers did not need to participate in the accommodation process, which nevertheless remained available under the IFR. Id.
, at 47806.
As with their previous regulations, the Departments once again invoked §300gg–13(a)(4) as authority to promulgate this “religious exemption,” stating that it “include[d] the ability to exempt entities from coverage requirements announced in HRSA’s Guidelines.” Id.
, at 47794. Additionally, the Departments announced for the first time that RFRA compelled the creation of, or at least provided the discretion to create, the religious exemption. Id.
, at 47800–47806. As the Departments explained: “We know from Hobby Lobby
that, in the absence of any accommodation, the contraceptive-coverage requirement imposes a substantial burden on certain objecting employers. We know from other lawsuits and public comments that many religious entities have objections to complying with the [self-certification] accommodation based on their sincerely held religious beliefs.” Id.
, at 47806. The Departments “believe[d] that the Court’s analysis in Hobby Lobby
extends, for the purposes of analyzing a substantial burden, to the burdens that an entity faces when it religiously opposes participating in the [self-certification] accommodation process.” Id.
, at 47800. They thus “conclude[d] that it [was] appropriate to expand the exemption to other . . . organizations with sincerely held religious beliefs opposed to contraceptive coverage.” Id.
, at 47802; see also id.
, at 47810–47811.
The second IFR created a similar “moral exemption” for employers—including nonprofits and for-profits with no publicly traded components—with “sincerely held moral” objections to providing some or all forms of contraceptive coverage. Id.
, at 47850, 47861–47862. Citing congressional enactments, precedents from this Court, agency practice, and state laws that provided for conscience protections, id.
, at 47844–47847, the Departments invoked their authority under the ACA to create this exemption, id.
, at 47844. The Departments requested post-promulgation comments on both IFRs. Id.
, at 47813, 47854.
Within a week of the 2017 IFRs’ promulgation, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania filed an action seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. Among other claims, it alleged that the IFRs were procedurally and substantively invalid under the APA. The District Court held that the Commonwealth was likely to succeed on both claims and granted a preliminary nationwide injunction against the IFRs. The Federal Government appealed.
While that appeal was pending, the Departments issued rules finalizing the 2017 IFRs. See 83 Fed. Reg. 57536 (2018); 83 Fed. Reg. 57592, codified at 45 CFR pt. 147 (2018). Though the final rules left the exemptions largely intact, they also responded to post-promulgation comments, explaining their reasons for neither narrowing nor expanding the exemptions beyond what was provided for in the IFRs. See 83 Fed. Reg. 57542–57545, 57598–57603. The final rule creating the religious exemption also contained a lengthy analysis of the Departments’ changed position regarding whether the self-certification process violated RFRA. Id.
, at 57544–57549. And the Departments explained that, in the wake of the numerous lawsuits challenging the self-certification accommodation and the failed attempt to identify alternative accommodations after the 2016 request for information, “an expanded exemption rather than the existing accommodation is the most appropriate administrative response to the substantial burden identified by the Supreme Court in Hobby Lobby
, at 57544–57545.
After the final rules were promulgated, the State of New Jersey joined Pennsylvania’s suit and, together, they filed an amended complaint. As relevant, the States—respondents here—once again challenged the rules as substantively and procedurally invalid under the APA. They alleged that the rules were substantively unlawful because the Departments lacked statutory authority under either the ACA or RFRA to promulgate the exemptions. Respondents also asserted that the IFRs were not adequately justified by good cause, meaning that the Departments impermissibly used the IFR procedure to bypass the APA’s notice and comment procedures. Finally, respondents argued that the purported procedural defects of the IFRs likewise infected the final rules.
The District Court issued a nationwide preliminary injunction against the implementation of the final rules the same day the rules were scheduled to take effect. The Federal Government appealed, as did one of the homes operated by the Little Sisters, which had in the meantime intervened in the suit to defend the religious exemption.[5
] The appeals were consolidated with the previous appeal, which had been stayed.
The Third Circuit affirmed. In its view, the Departments lacked authority to craft the exemptions under either statute. The Third Circuit read
42 U. S. C. §300gg–13(a)(4) as empowering HRSA to determine which services should be included as preventive care and screenings, but not to carve out exemptions from those requirements. It also concluded that RFRA did not compel or permit the religious exemption because, under Third Circuit precedent that was vacated and remanded in Zubik
, the Third Circuit had concluded that the self-certification accommodation did not impose a substantial burden on free exercise. As for respondents’ procedural claim, the court held that the Departments lacked good cause to bypass notice and comment when promulgating the 2017 IFRs. In addition, the court determined that, because the IFRs and final rules were “virtually identical,” “[t]he notice and comment exercise surrounding the Final Rules [did] not reflect any real open-mindedness.” Pennsylvania
v. President of United States
, 930 F.3d 543, 568–569 (2019). Though it rebuked the Departments for their purported attitudinal deficiencies, the Third Circuit did not identify any specific public comments to which the agency did not appropriately respond. Id.
, at 569, n. 24.[6
] We granted certiorari. 589 U. S. ___ (2020).
Respondents contend that the 2018 final rules providing religious and moral exemptions to the contraceptive mandate are both substantively and procedurally invalid. We begin with their substantive argument that the Departments lacked statutory authority to promulgate the rules.
The Departments invoke
42 U. S. C. §300gg–13(a)(4) as legal authority for both exemptions. This provision of the ACA states that, “with respect to women,” “[a] group health plan and a health insurance issuer offering group or individual health insurance coverage shall, at a minimum provide . . . such additional preventive care and screenings not described in paragraph (1) as provided for in comprehensive guidelines supported by [HRSA].” The Departments maintain, as they have since 2011, that the phrase “as provided for” allows HRSA both to identify what preventive care and screenings must be covered and to exempt or accommodate certain employers’ religious objections. See 83 Fed. Reg. 57540–57541; see also post
, at 3 (Kagan, J., concurring in judgment). They also argue that, as with the church exemption, their role as the administering agencies permits them to guide HRSA in its discretion by “defining the scope of permissible exemptions and accommodations for such guidelines.” 82 Fed. Reg. 47794. Respondents, on the other hand, contend that §300gg–13(a)(4) permits HRSA to only list the preventive care and screenings that health plans “shall . . . provide,” not to exempt entities from covering those identified services. Because that asserted limitation is found nowhere in the statute, we agree with the Departments.
“Our analysis begins and ends with the text.” Octane Fitness
v. ICON Health & Fitness
572 U.S. 545
, 553 (2014). Here, the pivotal phrase is “as provided for.” To “provide” means to supply, furnish, or make available. See Webster’s Third New International Dictionary 1827 (2002) (Webster’s Third); American Heritage Dictionary 1411 (4th ed. 2000); 12 Oxford English Dictionary 713 (2d ed. 1989). And, as the Departments explained, the word “as” functions as an adverb modifying “provided,” indicating “the manner in which” something is done. 83 Fed. Reg. 57540. See also Webster’s Third 125; 1 Oxford English Dictionary, at 673; American Heritage Dictionary 102 (5th ed. 2011).
On its face, then, the provision grants sweeping authority to HRSA to craft a set of standards defining the preventive care that applicable health plans must cover. But the statute is completely silent as to what
those “comprehensive guidelines” must contain, or how HRSA must go about creating them. The statute does not, as Congress has done in other statutes, provide an exhaustive or illustrative list of the preventive care and screenings that must be included. See, e.g.
18 U. S. C. §1961(1);
28 U. S. C. §1603(a). It does not, as Congress did elsewhere in the same section of the ACA, set forth any criteria or standards to guide HRSA’s selections. See, e.g.
42 U. S. C. §300gg–13(a)(3) (requiring “evidence-informed
preventive care and screenings” (emphasis added)); §300gg–13(a)(1) (“evidence-based items or services”). It does not, as Congress has done in other contexts, require that HRSA consult with or refrain from consulting with any party in the formulation of the Guidelines. See, e.g.
16 U. S. C. §1536(a)(1);
23 U. S. C. §138. This means that HRSA has virtually unbridled discretion to decide what counts as preventive care and screenings. But the same capacious grant of authority that empowers HRSA to make these determinations leaves its discretion equally unchecked in other areas, including the ability to identify and create exemptions from its own Guidelines.
Congress could have limited HRSA’s discretion in any number of ways, but it chose not to do so. See Ali
v. Federal Bureau of Prisons
552 U.S. 214
, 227 (2008); see also Rotkiske
, 589 U. S. ___, ___ (2019) (slip op., at 6); Husted
v. A. Philip Randolph Institute
, 584 U. S. ___, ___ (2018) (slip op., at 16). Instead, it enacted “ ‘expansive language offer[ing] no indication whatever’ ” that the statute limits what HRSA can designate as preventive care and screenings or who must provide that coverage. Ali
, 552 U. S., at 219–220 (quoting Harrison
v. PPG Industries
446 U.S. 578
, 589 (1980)). “It is a fundamental principle of statutory interpretation that ‘absent provision[s] cannot be supplied by the courts.’ ” Rotkiske
, 589 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 5) (quoting A. Scalia & B. Garner, Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts 94 (2012)); Nichols
v. United States
, 578 U. S. ___, ___ (2016) (slip op., at 6). This principle applies not only to adding terms not found in the statute, but also to imposing limits on an agency’s discretion that are not supported by the text. See Watt
v. Energy Action Ed. Foundation
454 U.S. 151
, 168 (1981). By introducing a limitation not found in the statute, respondents ask us to alter, rather than to interpret, the ACA. See Nichols
, 578 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 6).
By its terms, the ACA leaves the Guidelines’ content to the exclusive discretion of HRSA. Under a plain reading of the statute, then, we conclude that the ACA gives HRSA broad discretion to define preventive care and screenings and to create the religious and moral exemptions.[7
The dissent resists this conclusion, asserting that the Departments’ interpretation thwarts Congress’ intent to provide contraceptive coverage to the women who are interested in receiving such coverage. See post
, at 1, 21 (opinion of Ginsburg, J.). It also argues that the exemptions will make it significantly harder for interested women to obtain seamless access to contraception without cost sharing, post
, at 15–17, which we have previously “assume[d]” is a compelling governmental interest, Hobby Lobby
, 573 U. S., at 728; but see post
, at 10–12 (Alito, J., concurring). The Departments dispute that women will be adversely impacted by the 2018 exemptions. 82 Fed. Reg. 47805. Though we express no view on this disagreement, it bears noting that such a policy concern cannot justify supplanting the text’s plain meaning. See Gitlitz
531 U.S. 206
, 220 (2001). “It is not for us to rewrite the statute so that it covers only what we think is necessary to achieve what we think Congress really intended.” Lewis
560 U.S. 205
, 215 (2010).
Moreover, even assuming that the dissent is correct as an empirical matter, its concerns are more properly directed at the regulatory mechanism that Congress put in place to protect this assumed governmental interest. As even the dissent recognizes, contraceptive coverage is mentioned nowhere in §300gg–13(a)(4), and no language in the statute itself even hints that Congress intended that contraception should or must be covered. See post
, at 4–5 (citing legislative history and amicus
briefs). Thus, contrary to the dissent’s protestations, it was Congress, not the Departments, that declined to expressly require contraceptive coverage in the ACA itself. See 83 Fed. Reg. 57540. And, it was Congress’ deliberate choice to issue an extraordinarily “broad general directiv[e]” to HRSA to craft the Guidelines, without any qualifications as to the substance of the Guidelines or whether exemptions were permissible. Mistretta
v. United States
488 U.S. 361
, 372 (1989). Thus, it is Congress, not the Departments, that has failed to provide the protection for contraceptive coverage that the dissent seeks.[8
No party has pressed a constitutional challenge to the breadth of the delegation involved here. Cf. Gundy
v. United States
, 588 U. S. ___ (2019). The only question we face today is what the plain language of the statute authorizes. And the plain language of the statute clearly allows the Departments to create the preventive care standards as well as the religious and moral exemptions.[9
The Departments also contend, consistent with the reasoning in the 2017 IFR and the 2018 final rule establishing the religious exemption, that RFRA independently compelled the Departments’ solution or that it at least authorized it.[10
] In light of our holding that the ACA provided a basis for both exemptions, we need not reach these arguments.[11
] We do, however, address respondents’ argument that the Departments could not even consider RFRA as they formulated the religious exemption from the contraceptive mandate. Particularly in the context of these cases, it was appropriate for the Departments to consider RFRA.
As we have explained, RFRA “provide[s] very broad protection for religious liberty.” Hobby Lobby
, 573 U. S., at 693. In RFRA’s congressional findings, Congress stated that “governments should not substantially burden religious exercise,” a right described by RFRA as “unalienable.” 42 U. S. C. §§2000bb(a)(1), (3). To protect this right, Congress provided that the “[g]overnment shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability” unless “it demonstrates that application of the burden . . . is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and . . . is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.” §§2000bb–1(a)–(b). Placing Congress’ intent beyond dispute, RFRA specifies that it “applies to all Federal law, and the implementation of that law, whether statutory or otherwise.” §2000bb–3(a). RFRA also permits Congress to exclude statutes from RFRA’s protections. §2000bb–3(b).
It is clear from the face of the statute that the contraceptive mandate is capable of violating RFRA. The ACA does not explicitly exempt RFRA, and the regulations implementing the contraceptive mandate qualify as “Federal law” or “the implementation of [Federal] law.” §2000bb–3(a); cf. Chrysler Corp.
441 U.S. 281
, 297–298 (1979). Additionally, we expressly stated in Hobby Lobby
that the contraceptive mandate violated RFRA as applied to entities with complicity-based objections. 573 U. S., at 736. Thus, the potential for conflict between the contraceptive mandate and RFRA is well settled. Against this backdrop, it is unsurprising that RFRA would feature prominently in the Departments’ discussion of exemptions that would not pose similar legal problems.
Moreover, our decisions all but instructed the Departments to consider RFRA going forward. For instance, though we held that the mandate violated RFRA in Hobby Lobby
, we left it to the Federal Government to develop and implement a solution. At the same time, we made it abundantly clear that, under RFRA, the Departments must accept the sincerely held complicity-based objections of religious entities. That is, they could not “tell the plaintiffs that their beliefs are flawed” because, in the Departments’ view, “the connection between what the objecting parties must do . . . and the end that they find to be morally wrong . . . is simply too attenuated.” Hobby Lobby
, 573 U. S., at 723–724. Likewise, though we did not decide whether the self-certification accommodation ran afoul of RFRA in Zubik
, we directed the parties on remand to “accommodat[e]” the free exercise rights of those with complicity-based objections to the self-certification accommodation. 578 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 4). It is hard to see how the Departments could promulgate rules consistent with these decisions if they did not overtly consider these entities’ rights under RFRA.
This is especially true in light of the basic requirements of the rulemaking process. Our precedents require final rules to “articulate a satisfactory explanation for [the] action including a rational connection between the facts found and the choice made.” Motor Vehicle Mfrs. Assn. of United States
v. State Farm Mut. Automobile Ins. Co.
463 U.S. 29
, 43 (1983) (internal quotation marks omitted). This requirement allows courts to assess whether the agency has promulgated an arbitrary and capricious rule by “entirely fail[ing] to consider an important aspect of the problem [or] offer[ing] an explanation for its decision that runs counter to the evidence before [it].” Ibid.
; see also Department of Commerce
v. New York
, 588 U. S. ___, ___–___ (2019) (Breyer, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part) (slip op., at 3–4); Genuine Parts Co.
, 890 F.3d 304, 307 (CADC 2018); Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Assns.
v. United States Bur. of Reclamation
, 426 F.3d 1082
, 1094 (CA9 2005). Here, the Departments were aware that Hobby Lobby
held the mandate unlawful as applied to religious entities with complicity-based objections. 82 Fed. Reg. 47799; 83 Fed. Reg. 57544–57545. They were also aware of Zubik
’s instructions. 82 Fed. Reg. 47799. And, aside from our own decisions, the Departments were mindful of the RFRA concerns raised in “public comments and . . . court filings in dozens of cases—encompassing hundreds of organizations.” Id.
, at 47802; see also id.
, at 47806. If the Departments did not look to RFRA’s requirements or discuss RFRA at all when formulating their solution, they would certainly be susceptible to claims that the rules were arbitrary and capricious for failing to consider an important aspect of the problem.[12
] Thus, respondents’ argument that the Departments erred by looking to RFRA as a guide when framing the religious exemption is without merit.
Because we hold that the Departments had authority to promulgate the exemptions, we must next decide whether the 2018 final rules are procedurally invalid. Respondents present two arguments on this score. Neither is persuasive.
Unless a statutory exception applies, the APA requires agencies to publish a notice of proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register before promulgating a rule that has legal force. See
5 U. S. C. §553(b). Respondents point to the fact that the 2018 final rules were preceded by a document entitled “Interim Final Rules with Request for Comments,” not a document entitled “General Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.” They claim that since this was insufficient to satisfy §553(b)’s requirement, the final rules were procedurally invalid. Respondents are incorrect. Formal labels aside, the rules contained all of the elements of a notice of proposed rulemaking as required by the APA.
The APA requires that the notice of proposed rulemaking contain “reference to the legal authority under which the rule is proposed” and “either the terms or substance of the proposed rule or a description of the subjects and issues involved.” §§553(b)(2)–(3). The request for comments in the 2017 IFRs readily satisfies these requirements. That request detailed the Departments’ view that they had legal authority under the ACA to promulgate both exemptions, 82 Fed. Reg. 47794, 47844, as well as authority under RFRA to promulgate the religious exemption, id.
, at 47800–47806. And respondents do not—and cannot—argue that the IFRs failed to air the relevant issues with sufficient detail for respondents to understand the Departments’ position. See supra
, at 10–11. Thus, the APA notice requirements were satisfied.
Even assuming that the APA requires an agency to publish a document entitled “notice of proposed rulemaking” when the agency moves from an IFR to a final rule, there was no “prejudicial error” here. §706. We have previously noted that the rule of prejudicial error is treated as an “administrative law . . . harmless error rule,” National Assn. of Home Builders
v. Defenders of Wildlife
551 U.S. 644
, 659–660 (2007) (internal quotation marks omitted). Here, the Departments issued an IFR that explained its position in fulsome detail and “provide[d] the public with an opportunity to comment on whether [the] regulations . . . should be made permanent or subject to modification.” 82 Fed. Reg. 47815; see also id.
, at 47852, 47855. Respondents thus do not come close to demonstrating that they experienced any harm from the title of the document, let alone that they have satisfied this harmless error rule. “The object [of notice and comment], in short, is one of fair notice,” Long Island Care at Home
551 U.S. 158
, 174 (2007), and respondents certainly had such notice here. Because the IFR complied with the APA’s requirements, this claim fails.[13
Next, respondents contend that the 2018 final rules are procedurally invalid because “nothing in the record signal[s]” that the Departments “maintained an open mind throughout the [post-promulgation] process.” Brief for Respondents 27. As evidence for this claim, respondents point to the fact that the final rules made only minor alterations to the IFRs, leaving their substance unchanged. The Third Circuit applied this “open-mindedness” test, concluding that because the final rules were “virtually identical” to the IFRs, the Departments lacked the requisite “flexible and open-minded attitude” when they promulgated the final rules. 930 F. 3d, at 569 (internal quotation marks omitted).
We decline to evaluate the final rules under the open-mindedness test. We have repeatedly stated that the text of the APA provides the “ ‘maximum procedural requirements’ ” that an agency must follow in order to promulgate a rule. Perez
, 575 U. S., at 100 (quoting Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corp.
v. Natural Resources Defense Council
435 U.S. 519
, 524 (1978)). Because the APA “sets forth the full extent of judicial authority to review executive agency action for procedural correctness,” FCC
v. Fox Television Stations
556 U.S. 502
, 513 (2009), we have repeatedly rejected courts’ attempts to impose “judge-made procedur[es]” in addition to the APA’s mandates, Perez
, 575 U. S., at 102; see also Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation
v. LTV Corp.
496 U.S. 633
, 654–655 (1990); Vermont Yankee
, 435 U. S., at 549. And like the procedures that we have held invalid, the open-mindedness test violates the “general proposition that courts are not free to impose upon agencies specific procedural requirements that have no basis in the APA.” LTV Corp.
, 496 U. S., at 654. Rather than adopting this test, we focus our inquiry on whether the Departments satisfied the APA’s objective criteria, just as we have in previous cases. We conclude that they did.
Section 553(b) obligated the Departments to provide adequate notice before promulgating a rule that has legal force. As explained supra
, at 22–23, the IFRs provided sufficient notice. Aside from these notice requirements, the APA mandates that agencies “give interested persons an opportunity to participate in the rule making through submission of written data, views, or arguments,” §553(c); states that the final rules must include “a concise general statement of their basis and purpose,” ibid.
; and requires that final rules must be published 30 days before they become effective, §553(d).
The Departments complied with each of these statutory procedures. They “request[ed] and encourag[ed] public comments on all matters addressed” in the rules—i.e.
, the basis for the Departments’ legal authority, the rationales for the exemptions, and the detailed discussion of the exemptions’ scope. 82 Fed. Reg. 47813, 47854. They also gave interested parties 60 days to submit comments. Id.
, at 47792, 47838. The final rules included a concise statement of their basis and purpose, explaining that the rules were “necessary to protect sincerely held” moral and religious objections and summarizing the legal analysis supporting the exemptions. 83 Fed. Reg. 57592; see also id.
, at 57537–57538. Lastly, the final rules were published on November 15, 2018, but did not become effective until January 14, 2019—more than 30 days after being published. Id.
, at 57536, 57592. In sum, the rules fully complied with “ ‘the maximum procedural requirements [that] Congress was willing to have the courts impose upon agencies in conducting rulemaking procedures.’ ” Perez
, 575 U. S., at 102 (quoting Vermont Yankee
, 435 U. S., at 524). Accordingly, respondents’ second procedural challenge also fails.[14
* * *
For over 150 years, the Little Sisters have engaged in faithful service and sacrifice, motivated by a religious calling to surrender all for the sake of their brother. “[T]hey commit to constantly living out a witness that proclaims the unique, inviolable dignity of every person, particularly those whom others regard as weak or worthless.” Complaint ¶14. But for the past seven years, they—like many other religious objectors who have participated in the litigation and rulemakings leading up to today’s decision—have had to fight for the ability to continue in their noble work without violating their sincerely held religious beliefs. After two decisions from this Court and multiple failed regulatory attempts, the Federal Government has arrived at a solution that exempts the Little Sisters from the source of their complicity-based concerns—the administratively imposed contraceptive mandate.
We hold today that the Departments had the statutory authority to craft that exemption, as well as the contemporaneously issued moral exemption. We further hold that the rules promulgating these exemptions are free from procedural defects. Therefore, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand the cases for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered.