First Amendment

  • February 19, 2016

    by Nanya Springer 

    In The Huffington Post, ACS President Caroline Fredrickson urges the U.S. Senate to fulfill its constitutional duty and “give fair and prompt consideration” to any Supreme Court nominee.

    ACS Director of Strategic Engagement Jill Dash comments to Paul Waldman in The Washington Post about the improbability that a new Supreme Court would immediately overturn high-profile decisions. “The four more liberal justices currently on the Court take precedent and stare decisis seriously,” adds ACS Issue Brief author Samuel Bagenstos.

    Perry Cooper at Bloomberg BNA says class actions may see a Renaissance in the near future and notes ACS Board member Erwin Chemerinsky’s prediction that Spokeo Inc. v. Robins will result in a 4-4 split decision.

    In the Emory Corporate Governance and Accountability Review, Caroline Poplin examines the pharmaceutical industry’s misuse of First Amendment doctrine, and ACS Board member Reuben Guttman, with Paul J. Zwier, examines wrongful marketing and pricing practices.

  • December 10, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Ira C. Lupu, the F. Elwood & Eleanor Davis Professor of Law Emeritus, and Robert W. Tuttle, the David R. and Sherry Kirschner Berz Research Professor of Law and Religion, at George Washington University. They are the co-authors of Secular Government, Religious People (Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014).

    Constitutional lawyers and immigration experts have offered conflicting opinions on the constitutionality of Donald Trump’s proposal to prohibit Muslims from entering the United States. Some constitutional scholars have argued that the proposal violates the Constitution. Immigration experts, including Professor Gulasekaram and others, have expressed doubt that an American court would strike down such a plan, in light of the broad authority over immigration policy that the Supreme Court has recognized in the Congress and the President.

    Prior decisions by the Supreme Court have indeed confirmed that immigration policy may rest on considerations of national origin and ancestry. But no decision by the courts has confronted an exclusion based on religion, and any such policy is constitutionally doomed.

    The reason is probably not religious favoritism, which would be fatal to any domestic policy that preferred members of one faith to others. Instead, Trump’s policy certainly offends the Constitution because it would require the government to decide who belongs to the Muslim faith.

    Imagine the process for obtaining a visa to enter the United States, as a tourist, student, or any other relevant status. The applicant completes a form. In addition to the current questions, the Trumpian form might ask “Are you a Muslim?” or it might have a broader question about faith, with boxes to check like “Muslim,” “Christian,” “Jewish,” or “Atheist.” Anyone who answers “Muslim” will be denied a visa. So far, the inquiry alone violates no constitutional norms, although the policy of denying entry to self-admitted Muslims is constitutionally questionable.

    But what happens with an applicant who comes from a predominantly Muslim country, or has a name that suggests a Muslim heritage, yet checks a box other than “Muslim?” Will the system depend entirely on the applicant’s declaration? That system would collapse.  Any Muslim who wants to enter the U.S. and is willing to deceive will do so. Now what?  For the system to work, every applicant would have to be interrogated. And what would be the relevant questions? “Do you believe that there is only one God, and his name is Allah”?  “Do you believe that the Quran is a sacred text”? The government cannot exclude someone as a Muslim unless there are criteria for determining which beliefs characterize one as a follower of Islam.

    At this point in the process, the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause kicks in with a vengeance. The Clause is in the Bill of Rights, but it does not function as an individual “right.” Instead, it imposes a limit on the character and jurisdiction of the government.  The people of the United States belong to many faiths or to none, but the government itself has no religious identity. It is secular. Congress has no power to contravene this principle, whether or not the matter involves immigration.

  • November 13, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Samuel A. Marcosson, Professor of Law, University of Louisville Louis D. Brandeis School of Law

    On November 6, the Supreme Court granted cert in seven cases (which it promptly consolidated for briefing and argument as Zubik v. Burwell) to resolve the issue it left open when it ruled in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby that private, for-profit companies are entitled to a religious exemption from the Affordable Care Act’s mandate to provide contraceptive coverage to their employees. At issue is whether the accommodation the government provides to nonprofit employers satisfies the requirements of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). If it doesn’t, employees of these nonprofits will, like their counterparts at Hobby Lobby, lose their contraceptive coverage. A decision exempting the nonprofits from the contraceptive mandate would make Zubik one of the landmarks of the Term, and a disaster in the Court’s religion jurisprudence.

    Zubik tests the limits of the dangerous path the Court began to walk in Hobby Lobby. The majority opinion there departed from the Court’s long-standing approach in religious accommodation cases of carefully considering the impact of a proposed accommodation on third parties who would be burdened by it. In Hobby Lobby, of course, those third parties were the employees who lost coverage for contraceptive care that, under the ACA, is an essential element of comprehensive health insurance and which, for many, avoids enormous expense and “helps safeguard the health of women for whom pregnancy may be hazardous, even life threatening.” The Court gave almost no weight to the interests and needs of those employees who would be deprived of the essential coverage the ACA had mandated.

    The Court faces an even starker choice in Zubik because the claim on the other side of the scale, the burden claimed by the employers to their religious exercise, is more attenuated than it was in Hobby Lobby. A nonprofit that objects to providing contraceptive coverage receives an accommodation simply by certifying to HHS that it has a religious objection. As Justice Alito admitted in Hobby Lobby, a nonprofit which files the certification is “effectively exempted . . . from the contraceptive mandate.” In other words, to be accommodated under the ACA regulations, all the objecting nonprofits must do is tell HHS exactly what they are telling the Supreme Court: that they have a religious objection to providing contraceptive coverage.

  • November 4, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Alex J. Luchenitser, Associate Legal Director for Americans United for Separation of Church and State

    In recent years, religious groups have attempted to use the legal system to impose their beliefs on others in a variety of areas, from health-insurance coverage and healthcare services, to discrimination in public accommodations and employment. Religious groups have typically done so by claiming that they have a statutory or constitutional “religious freedom” right to discriminate, deny services, or be exempted from laws or regulations.

    The New York Times exposes another way in which religious groups are attempting to foist their faith on those who might not share it. More and more frequently, religiously affiliated institutions are requiring people with whom they interact to sign contracts that require any disputes to be resolved through religious arbitration instead of the secular court system.

    Such religious arbitration is typically based on religious law, such as the Bible. Arbitration sessions are often opened with prayers. And the arbitrators are typically adherents of the religion of the entity that is being sued.

    Religious arbitration may make sense in some circumstances. Courts are prohibited from resolving disputes relating to certain internal affairs of a house of worship, including controversies that require interpretation of religious doctrine or involve the selection of ministers. In such situations, religious arbitration may provide the best chance for a disagreement to be resolved fairly.

    But religious arbitration clauses have spread far beyond contracts between houses of worship and their employees or members. The Times reveals that such clauses are being used by a variety of entities and businesses that serve the public, including substance-abuse programs, providers of vacation houses, flooring vendors, and even a sponsor of a fishing tournament.

    In these kinds of circumstances, religious arbitration functions as yet another means for religious groups to force the doctrines of their faiths upon people who do not share those beliefs, and to avoid legal rules that apply to others. Religious arbitration, in that context, is also suspect from a legal and constitutional standpoint.

    Although courts have generally upheld contractual clauses that mandate arbitration to resolve disputes, some of the reasoning underlying such decisions does not apply to religious arbitration clauses: Secular arbitrators usually must rely on the same legal principles that courts do; religious arbitrations follow religious law. Secular arbitrations are subject to limited review by the courts; courts cannot review religious arbitrations at all, however, because courts are barred from interpreting religious law. And secular arbitrators must be impartial; religious arbitrations, on the other hand, may be conducted by the very same religious groups that are being sued.

  • July 17, 2015

    by Nanya Springer

    When Harvard Law School’s Laurence Tribe delivered the Chautauqua Institution’s 11th annual Robert H. Jackson Lecture on the U.S. Supreme Court last week, he had a lot of material to cover. The latest Supreme Court Term was eventful. From the Court’s historic recognition of same-sex marriage equality in Obergefell to its decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act health care exchanges in King, June 2015 produced decisions that will impact the way millions of Americans live their lives.

    While Professor Tribe discussed the significance of the high court’s opinions, he also addressed recent “momentous events that shook our country and complicated the meaning of our Supreme Court’s decisions,” including the racially motivated massacre at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston which preceded the Court’s ruling in Walker v. Sons of Confederate Veterans by less than 24 hours.

    Tribe says, “My hope is to tie the electrifying events of June together with [former Supreme Court Justice] Jackson’s eloquence and pragmatism, to arrive at a brighter and larger sense of that Constitution, a less cramped understanding of constitutional law, and a more capacious vision of the Supreme Court’s role in giving the Constitution life.”

    A full transcript of the speech is available here and here, and the video can be viewed below.