First Amendment

  • June 30, 2014
    Guest Post

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

    Two things stand out to me about this morning’s 5-4 decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) grants “religious” for-profit corporations an exemption from regulations requiring businesses to include coverage for contraceptives in their health insurance plans:

    First, the majority opinion attempts to hold itself out as a limited, cautious one. A closer look, however, shows that it is no such thing.

    Second, even though Justice Kennedy joined the five-justice majority opinion, his separate concurring opinion indicates that he disagrees with the majority in important respects. In such circumstances, a Justice normally joins a colleague’s opinion only in part, at most. Justice Kennedy’s imprudent joinder of the majority’s entire opinion will likely lead to mischief and confusion in the lower courts.

    Applicability to for-profit corporations

    The majority’s analysis begins with the conclusion that RFRA protects the religious “beliefs” of for-profit corporations, even though it is quite doubtful that the senators and representatives who voted for RFRA expected it to extend that far.

    The majority attempts to “limit” its ruling on this issue by stating that it is addressing only closely-held for-profit corporations here, and that it is not deciding whether RFRA also covers publicly-traded corporations.  But a reading of the majority’s reasoning on this issue — including its explanation that the word “person,” as used in RFRA, is defined as covering all corporations by a law called “the Dictionary Act” — leaves no doubt that the same result will ensue in the case of publicly-traded entities.

    The majority’s real attempt to answer concerns about extending the coverage of RFRA to all for-profit entities is to say: “don’t worry about it,” it’s unlikely that a publicly-traded corporation will attempt to impose religious requirements on its employers because it probably won’t be able to agree internally on any particular religious belief. This should not be of comfort to employees.

    Perhaps smaller, minority religions will not be able to impose their religious views on employees through publicly-traded corporations. But there is no reason to be confident that the religious views held by the majority of persons wealthy enough to own stock, at least in a particular industry or field, won’t give rise to RFRA claims by large, publicly-traded entities. In other words, employees need only worry about being subjected to majority religious views, of the better-off.

  • June 26, 2014

    by Jeremy Leaming

    ACS will conduct its annual Supreme Court review tomorrow covering most of the high-profile cases that have come down this term and looking ahead to Monday when more opinions are expected. We are still waiting for opinions in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby, regarding the contraception policy of the Affordable Care Act, and Harris v. Quinn, a case involving a First Amendment challenge to union representation of state home care workers.

    The high court today issued opinions in NLRB v. Noel Canning, involving the president’s recess appointments power, and McCullen v.Coakley, centering on a First Amendment challenge to a Massachusetts law creating buffer zones around abortion clinics.

    SCOTUSblog publisher Tom Goldstein, who will moderate tomorrow’s ACS Supreme Court Review, said of Noel Canning during live-tweeting at SCOTUSblog this morning:

    Here is the upshot of the decision. The President can make a recess appointment without Senate confirmation when the Senate says it is in recess. But either the House or the Senate can take the Senate out of recess and force it to hold a "pro forma session" that will block any recess appointment. So while the President's recess appointment power is broad in theory, if either house of Congress is in the hands of the other party, it can be blocked.

    Eric J. Segall, the Kathy and Lawrence Ashe Professor of Law at Georgia State University College of Law, also a panelist for tomorrow’s high court review, told ACSblog, “When is a recess not a recess? When it’s less than 10 days. Justices issue a mixed ruling in NLRB v. Noel Canning.”

    Chief Counsel for the Constitutional Accountability Center Elizabeth Wydra in press statement said, “While the Supreme Court voted unanimously to strike down the particular exercise of the Recess Appointments Clause power in the Noel Canning case, more important, the Court – by a sharply divided 5-4 vote – rejected the sweeping arguments made by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its allies.” (Wydra is also scheduled to participate in tomorrow’s ACS Supreme Court Review.)

    The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled early last year that President Obama’s appointments to the National Labor Relations Board in early 2012 during “pro forma sessions,” where Congress took deliberate steps to shorten the period for the president to make recess appointments. The president took the action noting that the 5-member NLRB could not function with three languishing vacancies.

  • June 3, 2014

     
    The Supreme Court ruled that a Pennsylvania woman who attempted to poison her husband’s mistress cannot be prosecuted under federal law. The justices ruled that the federal ban on chemical weapons does not apply to Carol Anne Bond, whose attempt to poison her victim resulted only in “a minor thumb burn readily treated by rinsing with water.” Lyle Denniston as SCOTUSblog breaks down Bond v. United States.
     
    New voting laws across the country will pose an arduous task for minority voters in the midterm elections. In states like North Carolina and Texas, these restrictions will “disproportionately affect registration and voting by African-Americans as compared with whites.” Fanita Tolson discusses the issue in the Tallahassee Democrat.
     
    Trip Gabriel at The New York Times addresses why democrats in Kentucky are disillusioned by the Obama administrations’ ambitious proposal for regulating power plant emissions.
     
    At Just Security, Marty Lederman examines the Obama administration’s reasons for not waiting “30 days to complete the Bergdahl exchange.” 
     
    At Concurring Opinions, Ronald K.L. Collins provides a “snapshot of the Roberts Court’s record on free expression issues.” 
  • May 8, 2014
    Guest Post

    by James C. Nelson, Justice, Montana Supreme Court (Retired)

    I am a non-believer. I became one late in my adult life because I was disgusted with the hypocrisy of religion in general and with the Catholic Church in particular. My decision was grounded in more hours of study and contemplation than I care to estimate. I do not believe in, much less pray to, any god.

    And my point with that opening is that the religion clauses of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution protect my fundamental right to be a non-believer; they insure, among other things, that my various federal, state, county and local governments cannot require me – directly or indirectly – to participate in any religious exercise. Read together these religion clauses form the wall of separation between church and state that the framers intended. They keep – or at least they are supposed to keep – religion out of government and government out of religion.

    That is why I cannot not accept the U.S. Supreme Court’s May 5, decision in Town of Greece v. Galloway. In that case the Court held that the town opening its  official board meetings with a Christian prayer offered by members of the clergy does not violate the First Amendment and does not discriminate against minority faiths or coerce participation with non-adherents. 

    The Court’s decision is flat wrong. It respects neither the history underpinning the adoption of the religion clauses, the wall of separation, nor the reality that “We the People” are a pluralistic and diverse society encompassing all degrees of sectarian believers, agnostics and athiests. Nonetheless, that decision is now the law of the land—created from whole cloth and judicially blessed by the right wing Christian majority of our Nation’s highest Court. And, that puts me in a box.

    For many years I have stood during opening prayers in public meetings of federal, state and local government. I did so out of a sense of respect for the beliefs of others and for decorum – notwithstanding my personal dis-belief in the prayer and the god prayed-to. But, while respect can be freely given, it cannot be compelled.  And, thus, The Town of Greece leaves me but one option.

    I will stand no longer for prayer! I will not, as the Supreme Court suggests, leave the room during the invocation. Rather, I will sit during the prayer in the meeting room in which I am constitutionally entitled to assemble. I will not be bullied nor will I be shamed into standing. After all, it is not I who is violating the constitutional separation of church and state. I cannot and will not be compelled to participate in any fashion in government sponsored prayer.

  • May 7, 2014
    Guest Post
    by William P. Marshall, William Rand Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Law, University of North Carolina School of Law
     
    There are myriad critiques that one might level at the Town of Greece v. Galloway decision—its lack of concern for messages of exclusion and the protection of minority religious rights being at the top of the list. But lack of predictability is not one of them.
     
    My guess is that not many people were ultimately surprised by the decision. Most everybody expected that the Court was not going to use the case to significantly alter existing Establishment Clause doctrine. Most everybody predicted that the Court’s decision would likely be 5-4 and that Justice Kennedy would cast the deciding vote. And most everybody agreed that because the decision would rest with Justice Kennedy, the Court’s opinion would be indecipherable no matter which way he sided. The oracles were three for three.
     
    Let’s begin with prediction one. That the Court might overturn Marsh v. Chambers, the 1983 decision upholding legislative prayer was never really much of a possibility. The plaintiffs themselves argued only that the Town of Greece’s prayer practice should be modified to be less sectarian and more inclusionary and even Justice Kagan’s dissent did not call for invalidating all legislative prayer.
     
    Nor was it likely from the other side that the Court would overrule precedents limiting government sponsored prayer in more controversial settings such as public classrooms and public school graduation ceremonies. Justice Kennedy, after all, was the author of Lee v. Weisman, the decision that specifically invalidated convocation prayer.