Justice Sotomayor blocks Obamacare contraception mandate
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor late Tuesday issued a temporary injunction preventing the government from requiring a group of nuns to comply with the contraceptive mandate included in 'Obamacare.' The mandate took effect at midnight.
By Warren Richey6 hours ago
President Obama’s besieged Affordable Care Act has suffered another setback with a US Supreme Court justice issuing a temporary injunction late Tuesday preventing enforcement of the law’s contraception mandate against a group of Roman Catholic nuns who provide care to low-income elderly patients.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued the injunction shortly before the ACA mandate was set to take effect at midnight on New Year’s Eve.
It proved to be a busy evening for Justice Sotomayor, who also considered a stay request from Utah officials in a case involving same-sex marriage, while also presiding over the famous ball drop in New York City’s Times Square in the final countdown to the New Year.
“It is ordered that respondents are temporarily enjoined from enforcing against applicants the contraceptive coverage requirements imposed by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” Sotomayor wrote in her brief order.
She gave the Obama administration until Friday at 10 a.m. to file a response.
At issue is a controversial provision of the ACA that requires employers to provide their workers with health insurance that offers a full range of free contraceptives, including drugs that some religious adherents believe cause abortions.
More than 90 lawsuits have been filed by corporations, nonprofit groups, and religious-affiliated organizations seeking to block the contraception mandate. The groups say the requirement that they pay for workers' access to such contraceptive methods violates their sincerely held religious beliefs.
The Obama administration exempted churches and other religious organizations from compliance with that aspect of the law. And after objections, the administration created an opt-out provision to help insulate a wider range of religious-affiliated groups from the mandate.
But that has not satisfied many religious objectors.
Among them is the Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged in Denver. In September, the group filed a federal lawsuit complaining that on Jan. 1 it would be subject to the contraceptive mandate and thus potentially liable to pay millions of dollars in fines to the Internal Revenue Service for failure to comply with the government’s demands.
A federal judge refused to issue an injunction blocking enforcement of the law, and a federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld that decision.
The appeals court panel said that Little Sisters of the Poor could opt out of the mandate and that because the group’s health insurance is considered a “church plan,” the Little Sisters would not be subject to fines or penalties for noncompliance.
“Therefore, there is no enforceable obligation … for any of the Plaintiffs to provide any of the objectionable coverage,” the appeals court said.
Lawyers for the Little Sisters filed an 11th-hour appeal to Sotomayor, who granted the temporary injunction.
“We are delighted that the Supreme Court has issued this order protecting the Little Sisters,” said Mark Rienzi, a lawyer with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing the Little Sisters in the case.
“The government has lots of ways to deliver contraceptives to people. It doesn’t need to force nuns to participate,” he said in a statement.
Later this year the US Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in two cases testing whether President Obama’s health-care reform law violates the religious rights of for-profit company owners and their corporations by forcing them to provide their employees with certain contraceptives that offend the owners’ religious beliefs.
Judge deals NSA defeat on bulk phone collection
By FREDERIC J. FROMMER51 minutes ago
WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal judge says the National Security Agency's bulk collection of phone records violates the Constitution's ban on unreasonable searches. The judge put his decision on hold pending a nearly certain government appeal.
U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon has granted a preliminary injunction sought by plaintiffs Larry Klayman and Charles Strange, concluding they were likely to prevail in their constitutional challenge. Leon ruled Monday that the two men are likely to be able to show that their privacy interests outweigh the government's interest in collecting the data. Leon says that means that massive collection program is an unreasonable search under the Constitution's Fourth Amendment.
The collection program was disclosed by former National Security Agency systems analyst Edward Snowden, provoking a heated debate over civil liberties.
WOW...Tremendous grasp of the obvious!......
When did you think this was EVER the answer!..?
White House delayed enacting rules ahead of 2012 election to avoid controversy
The delays meant that rules were postponed or never issued. The stalled regulations included crucial elements of the Affordable Care Act, what bodies of water deserved federal protection, pollution controls forindustrial boilers and limits on dangerous silica exposure in the workplace.
The Obama administration has repeatedly said that any delays until after the electionwere coincidental and that such decisions were made without regard to politics. But seven current and former administration officials told The Washington Post that the motives behind many of the delays were clearly political, as Obama’s top aides focused on avoiding controversy before his reelection.
The number and scope of delays under Obama went well beyond those of his predecessors, who helped shape rules but did not have the same formalized controls, said current and former officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic.
Those findings are bolstered by a new reportfrom the Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS), an independent agency that advises the federal government on regulatory issues. The report is based on anonymous interviews with more than a dozen senior agency officials who worked with the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), which oversees the implementation of federal rules.
The report said internal reviews of proposed regulatory changes “took longer in 2011 and 2012 because of concerns about the agencies issuing costly or controversial rules prior to the November 2012 election.”
Emily Cain, spokeswoman for the Office of Management and Budget, said in a statement that the administration’s “approach to regulatory review is consistent with long-standing precedent across previous administrations and fully adheres” to federal rules.
Administration officials noted that they issued a number of controversial rules during Obama’s first term, including limits on mercury emissions for power plants and Medicaid eligibility criteria under the Affordable Care Act.
“OMB works as expeditiously as possible to review rules, but when it comes to complex rules with significant potential impact, we take the time needed to get them right,” Cain said.
But Ronald White, who directs regulatory policy at the advocacy group Center for Effective Government, said the “overt manipulation of the regulatory review process by a small White House office” raises questions about how the government writes regulations. He said the amount of time it took the White House to review proposed rules was “particularly egregious over the past two years.”
Previous White House operations have weighed in on major rules before they were officially submitted for review. But Jeffrey Holmstead, who headed the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation in the George W. Bush administration, said the effort was not as extensive as the Obama administration’s approach.
“There was no formalized process by which you had to get permission to send them over,” Holmstead said, referring to rules being submitted to the White House.
The recent decision to bring on Democratic strategist John Podesta as a senior White House adviser is likely to accelerate the number of new rules and executive orders, given Podesta’s long-standing support for using executive action to achieve the president’s goals despite congressional opposition.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who chairs the Judiciary Subcommittee on Oversight, Federal Rights and Agency Action, said he’s concerned about the real-world impact of the postponements in the first term.
“Legal protection delayed is protection denied,” Blumenthal said. “I’ve spoken to officials at the top rungs of the White House power structure and at OIRA and we’re going to hold their feet to the fire, and we’re going to make sure they’re held accountable in a series of hearings.”
The officials interviewed for the ACUS report, whose names were withheld from publication by the study authors, said that starting in 2012 they had to meet with an OIRA desk officer before submitting each significant rule for formal review. They called the sessions “Mother-may-I” meetings, according to the study.
The accounts were echoed by four Obama administration political appointees and three career officials interviewed by The Post.
At the Environmental Protection Agency, for example, a former official said that only two managers had the authority to request a major rule in 2012: then-administrator Lisa P. Jackson and deputy administrator Bob Perciasepe. Perciasepe and OIRA’s director at the time, Cass Sunstein, would have “weekly and sometimes semi-weekly discussions” to discuss rules that affected the economy, one said, because they had political consequences, the person said.
“As we entered the run-up to the election, the word went out the White House was not anxious to review new rules,” the former official said.
Sunstein, who has returned to his post as a Harvard Law School professor, declined to comment.
Several significant EPA proposals were withheld as a result of those meetings, officials said, including a proposal requiring cleaner gasoline and lower-pollution vehicles that had won the support of automakers but angered the oil industry.
That regulation, which would reduce the amount of sulfur in U.S. gasoline by two-thirds and impose fleetwide pollution limits on new vehicles by 2017, was ready in December 2011, said three officials familiar with the proposal. But agency officials were told to wait a year to submit it for review because critics could use it to suggest that the administration was raising gas prices, they said. The EPA issued the proposed rule in March.
Other EPA regulations that were delayed beyond the 2012 election included rules oncoal ash disposal, water pollution rules for streams and wetlands, air emissions from industrial boilers and cement kilns, and carbon dioxide limits for existing power plants.
Ross Eisenberg, who serves as vice president of energy and resources policy at the National Association for Manufacturers and has criticized several EPA regulations, noted that in the past year the administration moved ahead with proposals such as the rules on greenhouse gas emissions and boilers.
“The agenda certainly did slow down, but it doesn’t change,” he said.
The administration also was slow to handle rules pertaining to its health-care law. Several key regulations did not come out until after the 2012 election, including one defining what constitutes “essential health benefits” under a health plan and which Americans could qualify for federal subsidies if they opted to enroll in a state or a federal marketplace plan.
The latter focused on what constitutes “affordable.” Treasury proposed a regulation in August 2011 saying an employer plan was affordable as long as the premium for an individual was no more than 9.5 percent of the taxpayer’s household income. Several groups — including labor unions — argued that the proposal did not take into account that the premium for a family plan might be much higher than that standard.
Unions represent a vital part of the Democratic coalition, in part because they help mobilize voters during elections.
The Treasury Department held the proposal back while finalizing all the other tax-credit rules on May 23, 2012. Treasury officials later told those working on the regulation that it could not be published before the election, according to a government official familiar with the decision who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of its sensitive nature. The department made the rule on Feb. 1.
OMB has reduced the length of time that rules are pending this year. The agency has cut the number of rules that were under review for more than 200 days by more than half.
But while the administration is pressing ahead, activists say the delays took a toll. Peg Seminario, director of safety and health for the AFL-CIO, points to an update of the nation’s silica standards proposed Sept. 12 after a long delay. The rule, which would prevent an estimated 688 deaths and 1,585 silica-related illnesses each year, won’t be finalized until 2016.
Jon Devine, a senior lawyer in the Natural Resources Defense Council’s water program, said small streams and wetlands remain vulnerable because of the administration’s foot-dragging. The EPA recently withdrew a proposal to outline what kind of water bodies deserve federal protection that had been pending since February 2012 and announced it would issue a legally binding rule instead.
“What’s disappointing is it leaves waters subject to the existing, weak state of affairs until they get the rule over the final hurdle,” Devine said.