The cases was argued March 25, with former Solicitor General Paul Clement representing Hobby Lobby and Conestoga, and current Solicitor General Donald Verrilli representing the US government.
It was a return match for the two high-powered lawyers, who had last squared off before the Supreme Court in 2012 to argue over the constitutionality of Obamacare itself.
That case ended in a split decision, albeit a lop-sided one in Verrilli's favor. A majority of the justices, including, surprisingly, Roberts ruled that the Affordable Care Act's mandate compelling most Americans to buy insurance or pay a fine was constitutional.
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However, a majority of the justices ruled that the federal government could not compel individual states to expand Medicaid eligibility to include all poor adults, as the ACA called for. Instead, it was left up to each state to decide that question: so far, 26 have either expanded Medicaid eligibility, or moved to do so in one shape or form.
During the Hobby Lobby/Conestoga arguments, the court's liberal female justices, including Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, challenged Clement with concerns that ruling in the two companies' favor would open a Pandora's Box in which privately held businesses use the the religious freedom argument to challenge requirements that they cover a slew of medical procedures or other aspects of employment law.
Clement had just barely begun making his oral arguments, which noted how contraception was "religiously sensitive," when Sotomayor interrupted him to ask, "Is your claim limited to sensitive materials like contraceptives, or does it include items like blood transfusions, vaccines?"
"For some religions, products made of pork?" she asked.
But several male conservative justices, among them Chief Justice Roberts and Alito, pressed Verrilli on questions about why a corporation should be barred from exercising a constitutional claim such as freedom of religion, and why there was good reason to believe that ruling in favor of a company that is closely held by a family would open the door to similar claims by large, publicly traded corporations.
Kennedy, who ended up yet again being the swing vote in a major case,, asked pointed questions of both side.
On Friday, three days before the Supreme Court ruling, the Obama Administration issued a press release that prominently mentioned data showing that women had saved nearly a half billion dollars in 2013 because of the ACA mandate that oral contraceptives be covered by health plans without out-of-pocket cost sharing by the covered individual.
The Health and Human Services Department said in a related report that the total number of prescriptions for oral contraceptives bought with no co-payment grew from 6.8 million in 2012 to 31.1 million last year. The number of individual women who made such purchases without co-payments grew from 1.2 million in 2012 to 5.1 million in 2013.
"By making preventive services more affordable and accessible, this is one way the Affordable Care Act is helping women," HHS said in its report.