‘In this area of religious freedom,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pleaded, “we have had a history of accommodation, tolerance here.” In May 2020, she and her colleagues were hearing oral arguments in Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania. The case was among the last she would ever hear—and when the Court’s ruled in favor of the Catholic nuns, it occasioned her final dissent.
For years, the Little Sisters had resisted the Obama administration’s efforts to conscript them into its process for providing subsidized contraceptives to employees under the Affordable Care Act. After the 2016 election, the Trump administration accommodated the Little Sisters with a full exemption from this part of Obamacare’s administrative apparatus. When Democratic attorneys general at the state level sued to strip that exemption away, the Little Sisters once again found themselves invoking the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act in their own defense. RFRA, as it’s known, was enacted in 1993 to reiterate and reinforce America’s commitment to tolerance of religion and accommodation of religious obligations.