Appeals court issues injunction against HHS contraception mandate

An appeals court delivered some bad news to the Obama administration, but good news to those who value freedom of religious expression and conscience.  An appeals court imposed a temporary injunction against the Department of Health and Human Services from enforcing its contraception mandate on a privately-owned business, the first action at this level:

A federal appeals court today issued an order granting a motion for a preliminary injunction that temporarily blocks the implementation of the HHS mandate against a Missouri business owner.

The decision is the first occasion on which a pro-life plaintiff has secured a legal victory against the HHS mandate at the federal appeals court level. Most of the dozens of cases against the HHS mandate are still at the federal district court level.

The order, issued by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, puts the HHS mandate on hold pending the outcome of the appeals process, prohibits the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) from requiring the business owner, who contends the mandate violates his constitutionally-protected religious beliefs, to comply with the mandate which requires employers to purchase health insurance for their employees that includes coverage for contraceptives, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs.

In even better news, this reverses one of the few victories that HHS had at the district court level:

Missouri business owner Frank O’Brien, who employs 87 people at O’Brien Industrial Holdings, alleged in the lawsuit that led to the injunction that the mandate unconstitutionally infringes on his religious beliefs.

On its website, the company says its mission is “to make our labor a pleasing offering to the Lord while enriching our families and society.” O’Brien is a Catholic….

A federal district court judge in October dismissed O’Brien’s claim at the request of the Obama administration. The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which is representing O’Brien, then appealed the ruling on his behalf to the 8th Circuit.

The Daily Caller notes that the injunction does not address the merits of the case, which in fact none of the cases yet have done.  All of the district court action until now have either been dismissals due to a lack of ripeness or temporary injunctions.  In order to win temporary injunctions, though, petitioners usually have to show that (a) they have a substantial likelihood of prevailing on the merits, and (b) they will suffer irreparable harm unless an injunction is issued.  It’s not a guarantee of victory, but it is a sign that the court takes the issue seriously and recognizes that damage may be done without intervention.

Once again, this case doesn’t involve an explicitly religious organization, either.  Cases involving religious schools, health-care organizations, or charities have yet to come to court.  So far, HHS and the Obama administration keep losing on what should be their best ground.