On New Year’s Eve, a divided Sixth Circuit panel granted a motion by Michigan Catholic Conference and Catholic Family Services to halt the so-called contraception mandate by the Department of Health and Human Services that went into effect under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Public Law 111-148See Michigan Catholic Conference, et al. v. Sebelius, et al. (6th Cir. Case No. 13-2723) (PDF).  As we reported numerous times back in 2013, the contraception mandate is the requirement under the new health care statute requiring employers to cover contraceptives in their employee health care plans.  The Michigan plaintiffs claim that the contraception mandate is a direct attack on their religious freedoms and violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000bb, et seq.

In ruling in favor of the plaintiffs, Chief Judge Alice Batchelder and Senior Judge Eugene Siler (with Judge Jane Stranch dissenting) relied on Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure, which authorizes the Court of Appeals to grant an injunction pending appeal.  Under Rule 8(a)(2), the Court engages in the same analysis that it does when reviewing the grant or denial of a motion for preliminary injunction.  The panel majority focused on the fact that, among other things, the U.S. Supreme Court has never considered similar RFRA claims, and no circuit court has ever considered these claims on the merits.  Moreover, district courts across the country that have considered whether to grant injunctions based on similar claims have been split.  The panel also placed great weight on “the possibility that the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights may be violated” if an injunction is not issued.

In addition to granting the plaintiffs’ motion for an injunction pending appeal, the panel also observed that the plaintiffs’ appeal implicates legal issues that already have been briefed before the district court.  The panel thus ordered the appeal to be expedited.

It looks like the Sixth Circuit will be off to a fast start in 2014, and so are we.  Stay with us throughout 2014 as we provide in-depth coverage on all the latest developments at the Sixth Circuit.