Obamacare’s Next (Narrow) Supreme Court Test

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Brooks Kraft / Corbis

President Barack Obama speaks about the Affordable Care Act from the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington on Oct. 21, 2013.

The U.S. Solicitor General filed three responses to anti-Obamacare petitions before the Supreme Court Monday night, SCOTUSBlog reports. That opens the door to a decision by the court, likely in the next month, to grant cert to hear at least one new case against the healthcare law this term. Arguments are likely early next year, and a decision as early as June of 2014.

But the administration can remain focused on fixing the Obamacare website for now: none of the cases is likely to affect the implementation of health care reform in a big way.

The three cases are Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius, Autocam v. Sebelius and Liberty University v. Jack Lew.

The Liberty case is largely an effort to relitigate the attempt to overturn Obamacare’s mandates on businesses and the uninsured, and is probably going nowhere: a prior petition by Liberty was already denied a hearing by the high court, then referred to a lower court for hearing in the wake of the Supreme Court’s major Obamacare decisions in 2012.

The Conestoga Wood and Autocam cases are both about whether private companies run by religious owners have a right not to provide contraceptives as required by Obamacare. In last night’s filing, the Solicitor General asked the court not to take Autocam and to put off Conestoga so it could hear another religiously-owned business case first.

That case isĀ Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby stores, which the court is likely to take in the next month, says SCOTUSBlog founder and publisher, Tom Goldstein.

He says the court will likely rule by June on whether such companies should get the same exemptions from the contraception mandate in the same way that religious institutions like churches and some hospitals get under the law. The question the court will decide, Goldstein says, is, Do you treat a closely held company with religious owners as if they’re a company or owners when it comes to requiring them to provide contraception to employees? The government would not be able to force an individual to violate religious convictions that prevent the use or distribution of contraceptives, but it can force a company to do so.

The case doesn’t present any fundamental threat to Obamacare because so few companies face similar circumstances.