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The Brief: Supreme Court Punts Birth Control Case, Avoids Tie

The U.S. Supreme Court sent a challenge to the federal Affordable Care Act's contraceptive mandate back to lower courts on Monday, issuing an unsigned unanimous opinion and avoiding a major ruling.

The U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C.

The Big Conversation

The U.S. Supreme Court sent a challenge to the federal Affordable Care Act's contraceptive mandate back to lower courts on Monday, issuing an unsigned unanimous opinion and avoiding a major ruling.

The Tribune's Alexa Ura wrote that the case pits religious groups against the Obama administration, which sought to require certain employers provide birth control benefits to female employees.

In taking up the challenge, Ura wrote that the Supreme Court was "expected to consider if the right to religious freedom is broad enough to completely exempt nonprofits with religious objections to birth control from providing women access to it through their insurance plans."

Monday's case is one of seven related lawsuits the Supreme Court agreed to hear where religious groups argue mandates as such from the federal government infringe on their religious freedom.

In an unsigned opinion from the court, the justices wrote, "the court expresses no view on the merits of the cases."

Mark Sherman of The Associated Press wrote the decision to send the challenge to lower courts, "was the latest sign of justices struggling to find a majority for cases taken up before Justice Antonin Scalia's death."

The justices could be buying time, Sherman wrote, by sending the case back to lower courts.

"The outcome suggested the court lacked a majority, underscoring the effect of Scalia's absence," he wrote. "And it pointed to the prospect of other cases ending in a tie among the 31 that remain unresolved."

The New York Times' Adam Liptak wrote the decision means the high court "is exploring every avenue to avoid 4-to-4 deadlocks" even if it means the court "does not decide the question the justices have agreed to address."

Trib Must Reads

Allegations of Fear-Mongering in Education Board Runoff, by Kiah Collier – An underdog GOP primary candidate is headed for a runoff against SBOE hopeful Mary Lou Bruner, a former teacher whose conspiracy theory-laden Facebook posts suggested President Obama worked as a gay prostitute in his youth to pay for a drug habit.

Dallas Hopes That Solutions Follow Closing of Tent City, by Alexa Ura – Now that Dallas has cleared out a large homeless encampment under Interstate 45 near downtown, local advocates hope the city will step up and address its homeless problem.

Christian Calls Gates Slumlord as Runoff Nears, by Jim Malewitz – In an increasingly testy Republican runoff for railroad commissioner, state Rep. Wayne Christian is reaching into Gary Gates' legal history in an effort to paint his opponent as a “slumlord.”

In Texas, Market Forces Driving Shift From Coal, Study Says, by Jim Malewitz – Texans are on pace to rely more heavily on natural gas, wind and solar energy to power their lives in the coming decades, according to an analysis commissioned by the Texas Clean Energy Coalition.

University of North Texas Eyes Sponsoring Dallas Cowboys, by Matthew Watkins – The University of North Texas is exploring becoming an exclusive higher education partner with the Dallas Cowboys football team, an unusual deal that could include sponsorship opportunities and student internships.  

Greg Abbott on Proposition 1: "The Issue's Not Over", by Patrick Svitek – Gov. Greg Abbott said Monday the fight is not finished when it comes to regulations in Austin that have driven ride-hailing companies out of the state capital.

The Day Ahead

•   Tribune CEO Evan Smith will moderate a discussion with Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath at the Austin Club at 8 a.m. The event will be livestreamed for those unable to attend in person.

•   The Senate Committee on Finance holds an interim hearing at 10 a.m. in the Capitol extension where they will discuss recommendations for strengthening restrictions on appropriations established under the state constitution and options for ensuring available funds above the spending limit are reserved for tax relief.

•   The Senate Committee on Health and Human Services holds an interim hearing at 1 p.m. in the Capitol extension where they will discuss the Zika virus and the state's ability to respond to challenges posed by the virus.

•   The Senate Committee on Criminal Justice holds an interim hearing at 1:30 p.m. in the Capitol extension where they will discuss programs provided by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for incarcerated individuals to prepare them for re-entry, the success of pretrial diversion and treatment programs, how bulk criminal records are disseminated and costs family members incur to maintain communication with an incarcerated family member.

•   The House Corrections Committee holds an interim hearing at 9 a.m. in the John H. Reagan Building with the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence where they will discuss fees and revocations for people on probation and parole and technical revocations in adult probation.

•   The House Committee on Human Services holds an interim hearing at 1 p.m. in the John H. Reagan Building with the House Committee on Urban Affairs where they will discuss the operation and regulation of boarding homes in cities and counties in the state.

Elsewhere

(Links below lead to outside websites; content might be behind paywall)

Garland police officer who stopped ISIS-inspired shooting honored with Medal of Valor, The Dallas Morning News 

A never-ending thirst: Exploring Tarrant County’s quest for waterFort Worth Star-Telegram

Gay pastor admits he faked homophobic slur on Whole Foods cake, The Washington Post

Texas Hospitals Struggle to Staff Nurses, KLBK-TV

2 Dallas-area college students left country to fight for Islamic State, leaked documents say, The Dallas Morning News

The Republican domination of state legislatures, in 2 maps, The Washington Post

Texas businessman asks U.S. Supreme Court to let him sue DEA over informant deathHouston Chronicle

Ayala: Activists focusing on issues immigrant women facing in detentionSan Antonio Express-News

Local, federal authorities investigate fatal Texas bus crash, The Associated Press

Texas AG Ken Paxton backs ExxonMobil in climate change inquiryAustin American-Statesman

Justices Won't Touch $236M Verdict in Exxon Mobil Pollution, The Associated Press

Quote to Note

"We make our plans for how and where to drill, but ultimately, the outcome, that’s in God’s hands."

— Former chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission Victor Carrillo on Zion Oil and Gas, where he is CEO. He said the company is hoping to discover oil in Israel to "hasten the second coming of Jesus Christ."

Trib Events for the Calendar

•    A Conversation Series on the Direction of Health Care: Do We Have Enough Doctors?, on May 19 at the Medical World Americas Conference in Houston

•    A Conversation with state Sens. Kel Seliger and Kirk Watson on higher education funding in Texas, on May 26 at The Austin Club.

•    A Conversation with Ryan Sitton, Texas Railroad Commissioner, on June 3 at The Austin Club

•    The Texas Tribune Festival on Sept. 23-25 at the University of Texas at Austin

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