In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled Monday that Hobby Lobby can ignore federal law and deny its employees comprehensive health insurance because of its “sincerely held religious beliefs.” Analysis of the case has so far called this a limited ruling because it only applies to closely held corporations and “only” impacts contraceptive coverage. But this framing completely ignores the fact that more than 90 percent of corporations in the United States are closely held, and that the court just effectively ruled that it’s fine for employers to discriminate against half of the labor force. There’s nothing limited about it. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted in her powerful dissent, far from being narrow in its ruling, the high court just “ventured into a minefield.”
Of course, that doesn’t make it any less infuriating.
To sum it up, five male justices ruled that thousands of female employees should rightfully be subjected to the whims of their employers. That women can be denied a benefit that they already pay for and is guaranteed by federal law. That contraception is not essential healthcare. That corporations can pray. That the corporate veil can be manipulated to suit the needs of the corporation. That bosses can cynically choose à la carte what laws they want to comply with and which laws they do not. Each specific finding opens a door to a new form of discrimination and unprecedented corporate power. If you think this ruling won’t affect you, you haven’t been paying attention. If you think these corporations are going to stop at birth control, you’re kidding yourself.
Religious organizations exist to foster the interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith. Not so of for-profit corporations. … The distinction between a community made up of believers in the same religion and one embracing persons of diverse beliefs, clear as it is, constantly escapes the Court’s attention. One can only wonder why the Court shuts this key difference from sight.
Approving some religious claims while deeming others unworthy of accommodation could be ‘perceived as favoring one religion over another,’ the very ‘risk the [Constitution’s] Establishment Clause was designed to preclude.
In the Court’s view, RFRA (the Religious Freedom Restoration Act ) demands accommodation of a for-profit corporation’s religious beliefs no matter the impact that accommodation may have on third parties who do not share the corporation owners’ religious faith—in these cases, thousands of women employed by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga or dependents of persons those corporations employ. Persuaded that Congress enacted RFRA to serve a far less radical purpose, and mindful of the havoc the Court’s judgment can introduce, I dissent.
The SCOTUS was not quite finished for the day. Hail the conservative 5!
Although Harris v. Quinn stood in the shadows of the Hobby Lobby case this session, both decisions dealt with women’s rights, since the home healthcare workers affected by it are disproportionately low-paid women. The Supreme Court’s decision in the case Monday made life harder for unions representing some of the lowest-paid workers in one of the fastest-unionizing sectors, but left most of public sector collective bargaining law intact.
The oh-so-cleverly named National Right to Work Committee widened this case to challenge “Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, which held that public employees who don’t want to join a union must still pay representation fees, as long as the fees don’t pay for political activity.”
The Court stopped short of overturning Abood, but laid the groundwork for eventually reexamining the issue. Par for the course, for the Roberts Court.
Some court observers see the conservative majority moving toward Abood, but slowly. “The court’s opinion in Harris is very much in the mold of opinions by the conservative Roberts Court majority: Issue a relatively narrow ruling on the conservative side, but lay the groundwork for a broader conservative ruling in the future,” Rick Hasen, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, told Mother Jones. ”In Harris, the court sets itself down the path of overruling Abood but does not take that step yet.”
All quoted, linked articles are from Salon.