Today the U.S. Supreme Court Decided Not to Decide

(photo: Photo Credit: Phil Roeder, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Today the Supreme Court decided not to decide. In a unanimous decision, the court said it was not deciding the primary question in Zubik v. Burwell, also known as the Little Sisters’ Case: whether Obamacare's contraceptive mandate substantially burdens some organizations' right to exercise their religion.

Don’t get me wrong, I do agree that the decision today is leaning towards a temporary victory for the Sisters as well as the Church. But in all honesty, today the Supreme Court decided not to decide upon whether or not the Little Sister’s of the Poor could exercise their religious freedom (as they and millions of other citizens understand it) within the Third, Fifth, Tenth and D.C. Circuit Courts of Appeal.  Instead the Justices are sending the decision back down to the lower court to see if either party can come up with a better compromise.  In playing the role of a pseudo-executive and a pseudo-legislative branch, the court acted as a mediator by “punting the ball” down field—which ultimately could or could not end up in a true victory for the Sisters.

Let me explain. If you listened to the oral arguments heard on March 23, 2016, it was apparent at that time that there was a split four–to-four make-up.  This was definitely anticipated as the court continues to deal with the reality of the tragic loss of Justice Scalia.  Hopefully—and this seems to be the hunch of many Catholics today—the lower courts in the Third, Fifth, Tenth and D.C. Circuit Courts of Appeal will be willing to find the “better compromise” and not force the Little Sisters to move to districts where they still have religious liberty.  But this is somewhat of a wait-and-see game.

Ultimately though, the lower courts may not agree to work with the Sisters (as prescribed by SCOTUS), allowing for that punted ball to be either received by a new religious liberty-affirming justice (God willing) or one that totally ignores what is the true issue at hand, affirming our fundamental right to not only to “be” a believer but also one that can “act” as a believer both in private and in the public square and never to have this right impeded by the government. So here we are again waiting to see what will happen.  

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