Liberty University v. Lew, the Fourth Circuit’s recent decision about the Affordable Care Act [ACA], should please no one. The opinion demonstrates the dangers of exempting religious organizations and individuals from the law. Take your pick. The court either exempted too many, or too few. Its middle ground unsatisfactorily addresses the First Amendment challenges to the Act.
Individual plaintiffs and Liberty University opposed the individual and employer mandates of the ACA. The individual mandate requires individuals to obtain minimum essential health care coverage or pay a penalty in their taxes. The employer mandate requires employers to provide affordable minimal essential health care coverage to full-time employees or face a tax penalty.
All plaintiffs are Christians morally opposed to abortion except to save the life of the mother. The most straightforward of their complaints alleged that their mandated insurance payments would wind up paying for abortions in violation of their constitutional and statutory rights. This is the simplest exemption argument in the case: plaintiffs think they should be exempt from the ACA because it burdens their religion.
The court quickly dismissed that argument. Under the Free Exercise Clause, it ruled, the ACA is a neutral law of general applicability that applies to everyone without singling out religions for disfavor. Moreover, the court decided, plaintiffs’ religion was not burdened by the mandates. Although plaintiffs alleged that their money would be used for abortion, other provisions of the ACA required that a plan without abortion coverage would always be available as a choice for consumers. Without a substantial burden on religion, neither the Free Exercise Clause nor the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (which prohibits the federal government from substantially burdening religion without a compelling government interest) was violated.
by Andrew Koppelman, John Paul Stevens Professor of Law, Northwestern University Law School
Last spring, the Supreme Court came within one vote of taking health insurance away from over 30 million people, exposing a dangerous intellectual trend that, simply put, threatens to hurt you and your family. The near-success of the constitutional arguments against the Affordable Care Act is scary news, because those arguments silently rely on a philosophy at war with the most fundamental purpose of the Constitution: to empower the American people to solve their most pressing problems.
The ACA included an individual mandate to have insurance, because no other path to universal insurance was workable. Even Republicans had supported such a mandate for years. Universal health insurance logically means that everyone must have insurance.
The litigation depended on a different ideal, which we can call Tough Luck Libertarianism: any obligation of healthy people to contribute to care for the sick is an intolerable imposition on liberty; if you get sick and can’t pay for care, that’s your tough luck.
The constitutional challenge was devised by conservative lawyers who had, for a long time, been eager to impose limits on Congressional power. They proposed a new and previously unheard-of constitutional rule: the state can’t make you do things or buy things. It may regulate only those who engage in some self-initiated action.
This action/inaction distinction came advertised as a great bulwark of liberty. Actually, it was a crude bit of political opportunism. No one can live in the world without engaging in self-initiated actions all the time. This rule is not a serious constraint on government power. It allows Congress to act in every case in which the citizen has voluntarily taken some action. Most of us can’t realistically avoid having jobs and buying things, and it’s not much consolation to be told that I can avoid oppression if I live in the woods and eat berries. This limitation is unlikely to have any application after the ACA litigation, and is patently tailored to bring about a desired result in a single case.
The Obama administration recently offered more accommodations to the religious employers who oppose women’s reproductive freedom and seek exemption from the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that employee insurance coverage extend to contraception and sterilization. The employers won two big victories. First, the definition of religious employer was expanded to include not only organizations where everyone shares one faith but also those that employ or provide services to individuals who are not members of the same religious community. Second, the employers will not have to provide the coverage. Instead, the insurance companies will independently contact employees and make separate contraceptive policies available to them at no charge. The insurance companies will cover the costs of this new arrangement and, presumably, pass them on to other consumers.
The new rules are responsive to repeated and vociferous complaints about the president’s war on religion. As soon as the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, first announced that religious employers would be expected to provide contraceptive and sterilization coverage at no cost to employees, the nation’s Catholic bishops attacked the president for his unprecedented assault on religious freedom. Those critics ignored the fact that the idea of requiring employers to protect women’s equality by providing insurance was not new or unprecedented. Twenty-six states have similar laws, and the highest courts of New York and California upheld their women’s contraceptive equity statutes against First Amendment claims.
With the federal act currently under challenge in 45 lawsuits, however, the administration chose to compromise rather than to press the legality of its actions on behalf of women’s equality. The strategy of compromise has been unsuccessful. Even the new accommodations have not satisfied the administration’s critics. The Catholic bishops still believethat the president should compromise even more by extending the exemption to secular, for-profit corporations run by religious individuals. And Kyle Duncan, the general counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which has sponsored much of the litigation against the mandate, stated that the new rules do “nothing to protect the religious freedom of millions of Americans.”
Since issuing its landmark Roe v. Wadeopinion expanding liberty 40 years ago this month, the debate over abortion has only intensified. Indeed, over the last few years state lawmakers have pushed for even more laws aimed at making it incredibly onerous if not impossible for many women to access the medical procedure.
So did the high court’s Roe ruling spark a backlash and if so, should supporters of marriage equality gird for a similar reaction if the Supreme Court rules in favor of marriage equality? In a post for Balkinization’s “Liberty/Equality: The View from Roe’s 40th and Lawrence’s 10th Anniversaries” conference, ACS Board members Linda Greenhouse and Reva Siegel tackle the question and conclude, in part, that a backlash against reproductive rights was gathering before the high court issued its Roe opinion in January 1973.
Greenhouse, former Supreme Court correspondent for The New York Times, and Siegel, a distinguished professor of law at Yale Law School, write that the message emanating from the “premise of the Roe backlash narrative,” is that “minority claimants should stay away from the courts.”
But that message, Greenhouse and Siegel write, is not correct in all circumstances:
Of course, judicial decisions, like Roe and Brown, provoke conflict. The question is whether judicial decisions are likely to provoke more virulent forms of political reaction than legislation that vindicates rights. There was, is, and will be conflict over abortion, same-sex marriage, and indeed, the very meaning of equality. When minorities seek to unsettle the status quo and vindicate rights, whether in legislatures, at the polls, or in the courts, there is likely to be conflict and, if the claimants prevail, possibly backlash too. To the question of whether one can avoid conflict over such issues by avoiding courts, the answer from an accurate pre-history of Roe v. Wade is no. The abortion conflict escalated before the Supreme Court ruled.
Greenhouse, Seigel and an array of other experts on liberty and equality will participate in panel discussions at the Jan. 18 – 19 conference at UCLA School of Law, which is part of the Constitution in 2020 project. (A schedule and listing of panelists is included at the end of this blog post.) See here for registration information.
Several of the Conference’s panelists are providing guest posts for Balkinization on topics likely to be discussed in detail or touched upon at the gathering. In another of those posts, the ACLU’s Louise Melling examines the legal challenges to the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employers’ health care providers offer access to contraceptives. As Melling notes, there are a slew of lawsuits against the contraception policy, and many of them argue that employers’ religious beliefs should trump the ACA’s requirements on contraception.
by Leslie C. Griffin, William S. Boyd Professor of Law, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, William S. Boyd School of Law
The preventive care provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which include coverage of women’s reproductive health, took effect on January 1. To date, the thirteen district courts’ and three appeals courts’ decisions involving secular, for-profit companies’ challenges to the ACA’s contraceptive insurance mandate are all over the map. They lack a coherent rationale and reasoning. Instead, the courts should rule consistently that the exemption requested by the plaintiffs violates the Establishment Clause.
According to the contraceptive coverage mandate, employee group health benefit plans must contain preventive care coverage that includes FDA-approved contraceptive methods and sterilization procedures. Numerous secular, for-profit companies and their Catholic, Christian or Mennonite owners challenged the mandate as a violation of their constitutional free exercise rights and the statutory protection of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which prohibits the federal government from “substantially burden[ing] a person’s exercise of religion.”
Among the plaintiffs in the secular, for-profit lawsuits are Weingartz Supply Company, which sells outdoor power equipment; Hobby Lobby, an arts and crafts store; Mardel, Inc., a bookstore and educational supply company; Hercules Industries, which manufactures and distributes heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC); O’Brien Industrial Holdings, LLC, which mines, processes and distributes refractory and ceramic materials and products; Tyndale House Publishers, a Christian publishing company; American Pulverizer Co., Springfield Iron and Metal, LLC, Hustler Conveyor Co., and City Welding, businesses engaged in scrap metal recycling and manufacturing of scrap-related machines; Korte & Luitjohan Contractors, a construction business; Domino’s Farms, a property management company owned by Thomas Monaghan, the founder of Domino’s Pizza; Sharpe Holdings, Inc., a non-bank holding company including farming, dairy, creamery, and cheese-making; Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp., a cabinet and wood specialties company; Grote Industries, which manufactures vehicle safety systems; Triune Health Groups, which helps injured workers reenter the workplace; and Autocam Industries, which provides automotive parts.