A federal appeals court in Denver has granted Hobby Lobby Stores Inc.'s request for the entire court to hear its legal challenge over part of the Affordable Care Act that requires the company to cover emergency contraceptives for its employees.
Typically, appeals cases are heard by a panel of three judges, but Hobby Lobby had asked the full court to hear the case — a request that federal appeals courts seldom grant, said Kyle Duncan, general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is defending Hobby Lobby in its lawsuit.
“It's extraordinarily rare for the court to do that — we think the takeaway is that the court as a whole recognizes how important the case is and wants to devote their full attention to it,” Duncan said.
The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday also granted the Oklahoma City-based crafts retailer's request to expedite the court case.
A hearing date has yet to be set, but Hobby Lobby hopes to have a nine-judge panel will hear oral arguments in the case in April or May.
The company had asked the court to speed up the legal process because it faces potential fines of up to $1.3 million per day for failing to comply with the health care law beginning in July.
Hobby Lobby is poised to be the first of several companies that have challenged the contraceptives mandate in the Affordable Care Act to have its case heard by an appellate court. That also could put the company first in line to eventually have its case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Hobby Lobby founder David Green and his family believe some types of emergency contraceptives, including the morning-after pill, are forms of abortion, which conflicts with the family's Christian religious beliefs.
The federal government argues that constitutional rights to religious freedom do not apply to Hobby Lobby because the company is a secular, for-profit corporation.