WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is trying to block a subpoena by the Archdiocese of New York seeking White House papers on the contraception mandate that requires employers to cover abortifacient drugs.
“Routine civil discovery seeking information from the offices of the president, the vice president and their staffs is generally not allowed,” the administration said April 4, according to Bloomberg.
The statement, which added that such discovery “is particularly unwarranted here,” was made in the case Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York v. Sebelius, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
The New York Archdiocese’s subpoena for the files is part of another lawsuit it has filed in the Eastern District Court of New York challenging the HHS mandate.
The Obama administration is arguing both that subpoenas of the executive branch are typically inappropriate and that fulfilling the subpoena request would require an “exceptionally burdensome search.”
In December, a judge in New York’s Eastern District Court allowed the New York Archdiocese’s suit to go forward, despite the Obama administration’s contention it was premature.
In January 2012, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a mandate as part of the Affordable Care Act, requiring all health-care providers to provide and pay for contraceptives, sterilizations and abortion-inducing drugs — even if the employer or insurance provider has deeply held beliefs preventing the provision of these products and procedures.
Over the course of 2012 and 2013, the Obama administration has offered a series of proposed modifications that offer exemption for “religious employers” and other proposals that clarify who qualifies as a “religious employer,” but the modifications have been greeted as too restrictive by the bishops.
Currently, there are at least 50 lawsuits against the mandate and proposed modifications, launched by some 150 entities, including dioceses around the country, religious nonprofit organizations such as universities, hospitals and charities, and for-profit companies that reflect their owners’ religious belief through their operation.
Legal challenges to the mandate have focused on the violation of religious liberty, citing the First Amendment to the Constitution and the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Employers who do not comply with the mandate will be fined by the federal government. Violators face fines of $100 per employee per day.
The Archdiocese of New York estimates fines of some $200 million per year. The arts-and-crafts store Hobby Lobby, owned by a Christian family, will face penalties of up to $1.3 million per day for violating the mandate if its case against the mandate is unsuccessful.