Court orders look at health care challenge
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court has revived a Christian college’s challenge to President Obama’s health care overhaul, with the acquiescence of the Obama administration.
The court on Monday ordered the federal appeals court in Richmond, Va., to consider the claim by Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., that the health care law violates the school’s religious freedoms.
The court’s action at this point means only that the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit must now pass judgment on issues it previously declined to rule on.
A federal district judge rejected Liberty’s claims, and a three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit voted 2-1 that the lawsuit was premature and never dealt with the substance of the school’s arguments. The Supreme Court upheld the health care law in June.
The justices used lawsuits filed by 26 states and the National Federation of Independent Business to uphold the health care law by a 5-to-4 vote, then rejected all other pending appeals, including Liberty's.
The school made a new filing with the court over the summer to argue that its claims should be fully evaluated in light of the high court decision. The administration said it did not oppose Liberty’s request.
Liberty is challenging both the requirement that most individuals obtain health insurance or pay a penalty, and a separate provision requiring many employers to offer health insurance to their workers.
Liberty law school dean Mathew Staver said, ‘‘This case now will go back to the federal court of appeals where we will address the undecided issues that the Supreme Court did not address.’’
When Liberty’s case was in front of the Fourth Circuit, Judge Andre Davis broke with his colleagues who thought the challenge was premature. Davis said of Liberty’s claims, ‘‘I would further hold that each of appellants’ challenges to the act lacks merit.’’
The appeals court could ask the government and the college for new legal briefs to assess the effect of the Supreme Court ruling on Liberty’s claims before rendering a decision.
Liberty’s case joins dozens of other pending lawsuits over health care, many involving the law’s requirement that employer insurance plans cover contraception. These cases are working their way through the federal court system.
In other action Monday:
■ Harassment claims: The justices heard arguments on whether to draw a legal line between work colleagues and work managers, at least when it comes to harassment and retaliation claims.
At issue was a decision by the Appeals Court for the Seventh District, which declared that only a person with the ability to fire or hire employees can be considered a supervisor, regardless of the person’s other duties.
But other federal appeals courts — and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — have a broader test, saying a person can be a supervisor if they have the authority to direct daily work activities and can undertake or recommend ‘‘tangible employment decision affecting employees.’’
The case was brought to the Supreme Court by Maetta Vance, who was a catering specialist at Ball State University. She accused a co-worker, Shaundra Davis, of racial harassment and retaliation in 2005, and sued the school under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, saying the university was liable since Davis was her supervisor.
■ Insanity pleas: The high court refused to consider whether a criminal defendant has a constitutional right to plead not guilty by reason of insanity.
The justices rejected an appeal from convicted killer John Joseph Delling of Idaho, one of four states that bar defendants from claiming that they were legally insane, or unable to appreciate that what they did was wrong. The other states are Kansas, Montana, and Utah.
Delling was convicted of killing two college students during a trip across the west in 2007. He suffers from acute paranoid schizophrenia and says he was in the grip of severe delusions when he killed the two men and wounded a third.
■ Recording police: The court rejected an Illinois prosecutor’s plea to allow enforcement of a law aimed at stopping people from recording police officers on the job.
The justices left in place a lower court ruling that found that the state’s antieavesdropping law violates free speech rights when used against people who tape law enforcement officers. The law sets out a maximum prison term of 15 years.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in 2010 against Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez to block prosecution of ACLU staff for recording police officers performing their duties in public places, one of the group’s longstanding monitoring missions.