On February 17, the Obama administration filed its first legal response to Belmont Abbey College’s lawsuit challenging the controversial contraception mandate, according to The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents Belmont Abbey in this case. The Obama administration had their first opportunity to explain to the court and the country why the mandate is not illegal and unconstitutional, and it seems like an epic fail.
“You might have expected them to argue that we don’t have a constitutional claim,” Mark Rienzi of the Becket Fund told The Cardinal Newman Society. “But instead they said ‘hey didn’t you hear we may fix it someday?’” Rienzi called it “really cynical” to have a law on the books but then argue that the court shouldn’t look at the law, because the administration said they’d fix it some day in the future.
He said he suspected that the administration knew they were on shaky legal ground when the lawyers kept asking for extensions while the politicians kept holding press conferences. He said that the administration’s promise to change the law in the future doesn’t stand up to constitutional scrutiny. “Apparently, the administration has decided that the mandate, as written and finalized, is constitutionally indefensible,” said Hannah Smith, senior counsel at The Becket Fund. “Its only hope is to ask the court to look the other way based on an empty promise to possibly change the rules in the future.”
The administration’s legal filing is based on President Obama saying at a press conference last week that the rules may be changed in the future. But the Becket Fund points out that what’s said at a press conference is not legally binding and does nothing to change the law on the books.
“Promises, promises. The Administration is taking the remarkable position that announcing future plans at a press conference means the courts should ignore what the law on the books actually says,” added Smith. “Since when does ‘Trust me, I’m from the government’ suspend the laws of the land?” Smith added, “If this is the best the administration can do to defend its mandate, it won’t last long.”
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is a non-profit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions.