“You were targeting religious liberty”: Sen. Sasse grills HHS nominee Becerra over his legal “bullying” of nuns

by Peter Heck · Feb 25th, 2021 9:22 am

Last Updated Feb 26th, 2021 at 10:58 pm

President Biden's nominee to become Health and Human Services Secretary, Xavier Becerra, suffered through a difficult line of questioning from Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) Wednesday. Sasse brought up Becerra's unprecedented litigation against the Little Sisters of the Poor as California Attorney General.

The Little Sisters of the Poor are the group of Catholic nuns who had been forced by the Obamacare mandate to violate their religious conscience and pay for contraceptive coverage as a condition of their continued existence as a charitable organization. After years of legal harassment from the Obama administration, the Supreme Court granted them emergency protection in 2013.

After the Trump administration had worked out a deal to exempt the Little Sisters of the Poor while still providing coverage under Title X to anyone who might lack it as a result of the Sisters' exemption, the issue seemed to be settled.

But in what might be an unprecedented move, Attorney General Becerra sued to try to prevent the federal government from providing the Little Sisters of the Poor an exemption. The purpose of the lawsuit was to compel the nuns to either violate their consciences by paying for contraception or face debilitating daily fines that would equal millions of dollars annually.

Becerra pursued the case despite not producing a single alleged victim who had been prevented from getting contraception because of the nuns' federal exemption.

Even after a 7-2 rebuke at the Supreme Court, Becerra has yet to drop his suit.

Sasse brought up that issue on Wednesday. After Becerra suggested that he had not sued nuns, but rather had sued the federal government, Sasse shot back that's "a pretty interesting way of reframing your bullying."

"You know well that what the federal government did was make sure that you couldn't target the nuns," Sasse said. "So you sued the federal government because the federal government said the nuns didn't have to buy contraceptive insurance. You can put 17 layers of ‘you were following the law to go after the federal government for administering the program' or ‘doing x or doing y,' that made it difficult for California to administer the program, but it was just about nuns buying contraceptive coverage. Was there something else the federal government did that you were suing them for in the case called ‘California v. Little Sisters of the Poor'?"

Becerra repeated his standard defense that his office was merely "trying to follow the law." Sasse didn't buy it, telling Becerra directly, "You were targeting religious liberty."


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