Shaking Down the Thunder From the Sky: Part 2 of Notre Dame's Challenge to the Contraception Mandate

21 May 2015 Wisconsin Appellate Law Blog

For the second time in as many years, the Seventh Circuit has declined to grant Notre Dame’s request for an injunction exempting the university from the contraception requirements of the Affordable Care Act. We wrote about the first decision here.

As was true back in 2014, the court remained skeptical of the link between Notre Dame’s actions (filling out a form noting its religious objections to contraceptives and sending the form to its insurance administrator) and the resulting actions (the administrator then providing the contraceptives directly to the insured). Consequently, the court ruled that Notre Dame did not meet its burden of showing that its religious beliefs were substantially burdened by the contraceptive mandate. Judge Posner wrote the majority opinion, which Judge Hamilton joined while writing a separate concurrence.

The case was back before the Seventh Circuit following the Supreme Court’s vacating of the Seventh Circuit’s 2014 opinion with directions to review the case in light of the Court’s Hobby Lobby opinion. (Odd, then, that the Seventh Circuit’s decision does not begin discussing Hobby Lobby until page 18 and discusses the case for little more than a page in a 25-page opinion.) The court concluded in short order that Hobby Lobby had virtually no application in Notre Dame’s case: In Hobby Lobby, a private sector employer wanted to receive the accommodation afforded to religious organizations, whereas Notre Dame argued that the accommodation itself was insufficient to protect its religious beliefs.

As in the original opinion, Judge Flaum strongly dissented. He once again argued that the majority was inappropriately judging the sincerity of Notre Dame’s beliefs, something he believes was foreclosed by the Hobby Lobby decision.

Perhaps most noteworthy about this opinion is that—nearly 18 months after Notre Dame filed suit—the decision simply affirmed the denial of a preliminary injunction. As both Judge Posner’s majority opinion and Judge Hamilton’s concurrence note, the record is still barren of the kinds of facts that a trial will bring out—and that could allow Notre Dame to introduce more evidence of the religious burden the contraceptive provisions of the Affordable Care Act place on the school. Yet it seems likely that before that trial occurs, Notre Dame will again petition the Supreme Court to review the Seventh Circuit’s opinion. And given the Court’s willingness to weigh in on these issues, the thunderstorm shows no signs of letting up.

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