“When I look at these cases, I’m not really sure there’s one vote to start with on the side of the government”

Together, the cases could recreate a broad left-right coalition on the court that has emerged in the past decade to defend religious rights against alleged government intrusions.

“I wouldn’t be betting on the government winning,” said Michael McConnell, a former federal appeals court judge who favors granting broad religious exemptions. “I would say that the government has an uphill battle.”

A legal expert who has argued for a broad government right to enforce government policies like anti-discrimination laws agrees: the cases — both the immediate battle involving nonprofit nursing homes operated by the Little Sisters of the Poor, and the pending ones featuring for-profit companies Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties — will be tough fights.

“When I look at these cases, I’m not really sure there’s one vote to start with on the side of the government,” said Leslie Griffin, a law professor at the University of Las Vegas.