US Supreme Court

On March 30, Thomas Aquinas College officials responded with optimism to the U.S. Supreme Court’s order that both sides file supplemental briefs to aid the justices in their decision, less than a week after hearing oral arguments in the case of Zubik v. Burwell.

“This is encouraging news,” says college president Dr. Michael McLean. “It suggests that the justices are looking for a solution that satisfies the government’s policy aims without getting religious organizations, such as the college, involved in furnishing access to morally objectionable coverage.”

Under the existing terms of the Affordable Care Act, which the college and its 34 co-plaintiffs have challenged in a series of lawsuits now culminating in the one before the high court, religious organizations are required to facilitate the provision of contraceptive, abortifacient and sterilization coverage to their employees.

On March 29, however, the court instructed the litigants’ attorneys “to address whether and how” petitioners’ employees could obtain contraceptive coverage through petitioners’ insurance companies in a way that “does not require any involvement of petitioners beyond their own decision to provide health insurance without contraceptive coverage to their employees.”

This development is unusual, says college General Counsel Quincy Masteller.

“It shows that the justices are really wrestling with the issues at stake,” he said. “I think they see the religious issue involved and the burden that the government scheme has put on the religious entities that object on moral grounds, and they are trying to find a way to protect the religious entities’ interest while meeting the government’s interest in providing the coverage.”