April 1, 2013 — The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has granted Hobby Lobby's request for the full court to hear an expedited appeal of its lawsuit challenging the federal contraceptive coverage rules, The Oklahoman reports.
Normally, a three-judge panel hears appeals cases, but Hobby Lobby asked the entire panel to hear the case. Such requests are seldom granted, according to Kyle Duncan, general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing Hobby Lobby in the case (Bailey, The Oklahoman, 3/30).
The company is seeking an injunction to block the federal government from enforcing the contraceptive coverage rules, which require most health plans to cover contraceptive services. Hobby Lobby's Christian owners argue that the rules violate their religious beliefs because they consider some forms of contraception to be the equivalent of an abortion. Although the Obama administration has proposed an accommodation for religiously affiliated employers to ensure their health plans do not have to pay for contraceptive coverage, the accommodation was not extended to for-profit businesses, including Hobby Lobby (Women's Health Policy Report, 2/21).
In December, a three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit concurred with a lower court's decision that Hobby Lobby's owners should not be granted an injunction from complying with the rules while the court case is pending because they operate secular businesses. The suit also involves Mardel, Hobby Lobby's sister company.
The owners then asked the Supreme Court for an emergency injunction to block enforcement of the rules. The high court rejected the request, saying that the case did not meet the conditions for extraordinary relief and that it would not consider the matter until lower courts have ruled (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/3). In response, Hobby Lobby postponed the start of its health insurance plan year to delay paying fines for not complying with the rules. The companies have said they would face fines of up to $1.3 million per day for not providing contraceptive coverage to their workers (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/11).
Hobby Lobby asked the court to hear the case on an expedited basis because it could begin incurring fines in July.
A hearing date has not been set, but the plaintiffs hope the court will schedule oral arguments for April or May (The Oklahoman, 3/30).