While the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate was the center of attention during the first round of constitutional challenges to it, its “contraception mandate” stars in two cases currently before the Supreme Court, Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius. Under health care reform, large employers must now provide employees with health insurance that covers basic preventive care. For women, basic preventive care includes access to FDA-approved contraception. The Obama administration has totally exempted churches from this requirement, and essentially exempted nonprofits from it, so it really only applies to for-profit corporations. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., a chain of arts and crafts stores, and Conestoga Woods Specialties Corp., a cabinet manufacturer, argue that they are religiously opposed to certain forms of contraception and that consequently the contraception mandate violates their religious liberty.
Actually, there are two types of plaintiffs in these cases. First, there are the for-profit corporations who claim that the contraception mandate violates the corporations’ religious rights. Second, there are the owners of the for-profit corporations who claim that the contraception mandate violates their individual religious rights. Both plaintiffs should lose, but for different reasons. The corporations should lose because for-profit corporations do not and should not have religious liberty rights. The owners of the corporations should lose because their claims have no merit.
Starting with the corporate plaintiffs: the reasons individuals and churches are granted religious liberty rights simply do not apply to for-profit corporations. Why do we protect individual religious conscience? Religious people might respond that we protect individual religious conscience so that people can fulfill their obligations to God. Failure to do so can cause great suffering now and in the hereafter. Corporations, of course, cannot not suffer, have no soul, and certainly have no relationship with God. Secular people might respond that we protect people’s decisions about their spirituality because it is a way of respecting their individual autonomy and inherent dignity. But while people are ends in themselves and possess an inviolable dignity, corporations do not. They are merely a means to an end, and possess no inherent dignity that we must respect. In short, religious rights only make sense when applied to actual people. Corporations lack the fundamentally human attributes, such as a relationship with God or inviolable dignity, which justify religious liberty protection.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been a passionate advocate for progressive ideals during her long tenure on the Supreme Court. However, many on the left are urging Justice Ginsburg to retire at the end of the Court’s current term, in order to avoid risking “a Republican president filling her seat.” Garrett Epps at The Atlanticexplains why “this Supreme Court justice will leave the bench when she's ready, regardless of what others think.”
Writing for NYRblog, David Cole—Co-Faculty Advisor for the Georgetown University Law Center ACS Student Chapter—comments on the growing controversy regarding the Central Intelligence Agency’s alleged tampering with a Senate torture investigation. Cole argues that the CIA’s “desperate efforts to hide the details … are only the latest evidence of the poisonous consequences of a program euphemistically called ‘enhanced interrogation.’”
The Cleveland-Marshall College of Law has announced a plan to allow its students the opportunity to end law school early while earning a Master of Legal Studies degree. Karen Sloan at The National Law Journal breaks down the first “risk-free Juris doctor program.”
Ronald K. L. Collins at Concurring Opinions examines how Justice Antonin Scalia’s “view of textualism and originalism … plays out in the First Amendment context.”
At Balkinization, Marty Lederman provides readers with a collection of his commentary on Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. A list of ACS resources on Hobby Lobby and other challenges to the Affordable Care Act can be found here.
Peter Hardin at GavelGrab discusses the Tennessee Supreme Court’s decision to uphold retention elections.
Students from Yale Law School wrote a letter admonishing Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) for voting against the nomination of Debo Adegbile to head the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department. Sen. Coons voted against Adegbile because he oversaw an appeals process for a convicted murderer while at the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. Ryan J. Reilly at The Huffington Post reports on the letter.
On Monday, Tarek Mehanna’s lawyer asked the Supreme Court to review his client’s seventeen-year imprisonment by a Boston jury for “providing material support to the Al-Qaeda terrorist network.” Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSblog notes the First Amendment implications of Mehanna’s conviction.
Anticipation is growing as the Supreme Court prepares to hear oral argument for Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. In an article for Slate, Adam Winkler—Faculty Advisor for the UCLA School of Law ACS Student Chapter—explains why corporations should have the rights of “legal personhood that are essential to their operations” and why “Hobby Lobby should lose.”
Kirk Siegler at NPR discusses why “California is shaping up to be the next major battleground over the Second Amendment.”
Celebrating Women’s History Month, Cortelyou Kenney at Womenstake discusses the “gains women have made in terms of their representation on the federal judiciary … under the Obama administration.”
As the Supreme Court prepares to hear Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. on Mar. 25, the companies refusing to provide contraception insurance coverage to their employees prepare to “frame their objections narrowly.” Emily Bazelon at Slate reveals “what the religious right really thinks of birth control.”
Jeffrey Thompson, a government contractor, pleaded guilty to funneling large amounts of campaign contributions to several political candidates, including Washington, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray. Zoe Tillman at Legal Times reports on the growing controversy surrounding Thompson’s trial and the implications for the 2014 mayoral election.
A group of Californians filed a petition for certiorari with the Supreme Court in an effort to “block a city ordinance banning gun ammunition-holders (‘magazines’) that contain more than ten bullets.” Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSblog breaks down Fyock v. City of Sunnyvale.
A same-sex couple filed for divorce in Alabama, causing a plethora of legal questions to arise in a state that refuses to recognize gay marriage. Brian Lawson of The Huntsville Times describes how the state’s marriage ban is “[leaving] the couple without an easy way to untie the knot.”
At The New York Times, Paul Krugman explains why “taking action to reduce the extreme inequality of 21st-century America would probably increase, not reduce, economic growth.”
Staci Zaretsky at Above the Law comments on the U.S News & World Report 2015 law school rankings.
Religious freedom is crucial to the American experience. Indeed, a longing for the right to worship according to the dictates of conscience is one of the reasons our nation exists.
Religious freedom encompasses many concepts. Fundamentally, it means the power to choose where and how you will worship—or if you’ll worship at all. It also means that the government has no right to compel anyone to take part in religious exercises or force its citizens to directly subsidize houses of worship. It means that decisions about faith are private and belong firmly anchored in what Supreme Court Justice Tom Clark once eloquently referred to as the “inviolable citadel of the heart.”
That’s what religious freedom is. Here is what it is not: a tool to control others or to diminish their rights. Yet, increasingly, this is how some Americans are defining religious liberty. Because religious freedom is central to our democracy, it’s important that we get this right.
I wrote Taking Liberties: Why Religious Freedom Doesn’t Give You the Right to Tell Other People What to Do because I was concerned that a noble principle designed to protect individual freedom was being warped into an instrument of mass oppression. This must not happen.