Justice Sotomayor in Obamacare hotseat

Story highlights

  • Sotomayor upheld Obamacare last year, now she's in the spotlight again in another appeal
  • She issued stay to give Denver nuns reprieve on providing birth control to workers
  • "She just placed a single case on hold. She did not overturn Obamacare," analyst says
  • Sotomayor got the case because the nuns live in Denver, a town in her "region"
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor was thrust into the national spotlight on two hot-button issues this week.
It had nothing to do with the cases involved -- same-sex marriage in Utah and a requirement for contraceptive coverage under Obamacare.
The two emergency appeals on New Year's Eve came her way because the cases originated in western areas of the country -- Colorado and Utah -- that fall under her jurisdiction for reviewing time-sensitive federal motions.
Sotomayor sought more information on an appeal from Utah to uphold its voter-approved ban on same-sex unions in the state.
But she made headlines on the politically charged case around the Affordable Care Act just as new rules were about to take effect.
Sotomayor issued an order that, for the moment, stayed a requirement under the sweeping health law for certain religiously affiliated groups to ensure that employees receive coverage for contraception at no cost.
The Denver-based organization that cares for elderly poor, the Little Sisters of the Poor, objects to complying with rules under the law that would guarantee it an exemption but, in theory, still require a third party to provide contraception insurance.
Ultimately, it believes authorizing a form that passes the ball to another entity still means contraception coverage for its employees and that, to the nuns, is objectionable on moral grounds. The Catholic Church opposes artificial contraception.
While Sotomayor's emergency injunction or any follow up to extend it or seek the opinion of her fellow justices for additional review may seem like a blow to the politically charged health care law, it isn't.
Nor does it convey any meaning about where Sotomayor, a liberal jurist, may stand on the larger issues raised in the appeal overall.
"She just placed a single case on hold. She did not overturn Obamacare," CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said.
Her decision late on Tuesday simply put the brakes on compliance for the Little Sisters of the Poor and enabled the Obama administration to file its arguments.
The Justice Department said on Friday the appeal lacked merit. The charity, it said, is eligible for an exemption and moreover, the entity that administers its insurance plans, the non-profit Christian Brothers Services, is also exempt under certain conditions in the Obamacare rules applying to religious institutions.
Toobin said Sotomayor acted "based on her view of the law" in holding up the rule in this case.
Sotomayor voted to uphold The Affordable Care Act in 2012 in a blockbuster Supreme Court ruling that gave Obama an enormous political victory.
Obamacare seeks to extend health coverage to millions of Americans without it and is the President's signature domestic achievement. It is relentlessly under attack from conservatives who have made numerous attempts to repeal or otherwise sink it, and is the focus of numerous legal challenges.