The federal government's authority has legal bounds. And a Supreme Court justice evidently thinks the Obama administration might have gone beyond those constitutional limits with its edict that an order of nuns in Colorado provide a wide range of insurance coverage for birth control.
That jurist is not a conservative appointed to the high court by a Republican president. She's Sonia Sotomayor, President Barack Obama's first Supreme Court nominee and correctly regarded as a member of the court's liberal wing.
In early 2012, the administration decreed that under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, large-scale employers must provide insurance coverage for contraceptives, morning-after pills and sterilizations. After vehement objections from religious organizations that opposed those requirements as a matter a faith, the White House made an "accommodation" for religious organizations.
Well, sort of. The change merely shifted the financial obligation for birth-control coverage more directly to the insurance companies. Many religious organizations fairly deemed the exception a distinction without a significant difference.
Justice Sotomayor apparently sees possible merit in religious-based opposition to the edict. On Tuesday, ruling on a motion filed by the Little Sisters of the Poor, she issued a temporary injunction delaying the birth-control-coverage requirement on that small order of Colorado nuns. She gave the Justice Department until today to respond.
The administration contended in a Wednesday statement that "our final rules strike the balance of providing women with free contraceptive coverage while preventing non-profit religious employers with religious objections to contraceptive coverage from having to contract, arrange, pay, or refer for such coverage."
Yet just as there's no such thing as a free lunch, there's no such thing as "free contraceptive coverage." Insurance companies cover their costs by raising their rates.
And as The Associated Press reported Wednesday, the administration would still require the Little Sisters "to sign a form authorizing their insurance company to provide contraceptive coverage."
More legal challenges loom against not just Obamacare's contraceptive mandate but the unaffordable law's unprecedented intrusions upon Americans' health insurance choices. Beyond valid religious-freedom concerns lies growing alarm over the insidious notion that Washington can order Americans (or their employers) to buy health insurance coverage that they neither want nor need.
But at least Obama administration officials who insist on "free contraceptive coverage" for nuns now must tell it to the judge - in this case, Justice Sotomayor.