Reproductive freedom

  • July 7, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Charlotte GardenAssistant Professor of Law and Litigation Director of the Korematsu Center for Law & Equality, Seattle University School of Law. She co-authored an amicus brief in Harris v. Quinn on behalf of more than thirty labor law professors. Follow her on Twitter @ProfCGarden.

    The Supreme Court’s final week turned out to be an even bigger blockbuster than expected. Not only did the Court issue decisions in Harris v. Quinn and Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, it also gave an encore performance, exempting Wheaton College from filing with its insurance company the form required to opt out of the ACA’s contraceptive mandate. These decisions share an important characteristic: they allow some to shift the costs of their ideological or religious commitments onto workers who may disagree.

    At first blush, Harris and Hobby Lobby appear to have little to do with each other: Harris is a First Amendment case about whether home health care workers could be required to pay a “fair share fee” covering their share of their union’s representation costs; Hobby Lobby is about a for-profit corporation’s right to opt out of the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).  But Harris and Hobby Lobby share a number of similarities.  Both were 5-4 decisions authored by Justice Alito, and, as others have pointed out, they will both disproportionately impact women.  There is an additional similarity: while the majority opinions in both cases reflect concern for the rights of religious and political objectors, they ignore the fact that the real costs of these objections could be shifted directly onto other workers with different beliefs. 

    In Harris v. Quinn, the Court held that home healthcare aides in Illinois have a First Amendment right to avoid paying their share of the costs that an elected union incurs in representing them. But, under Illinois law, the workers who choose not to pay are not then excluded from union representation.  Instead, the union must continue to represent these workers fairly, which in turn means the union will incur tangible costs on their behalf during bargaining and while enforcing the resulting contract.  As others have explained, this creates an incentive to free ride. But who pays for that free riding? It is the union that incurs the representation costs, but it is other workers who ultimately pay those costs, in the form of their own dues and fees. In other words, Harris didn’t just create a right to opt out of union activity with which one disagrees; it will also result in some workers having to pick up the financial slack left when their co-workers opt out. This is a significant extension of the law: the Court had never before found a right to opt out of costs for activities that a union is statutorily obligated to perform. (The Court previously held that union-represented workers have a right to opt out of funding union political speech, but of course unions are under no statutory obligation to engage in politics.) Yet, the workers who will bear the costs of this ruling were entirely absent from the Court’s First Amendment analysis. And, while this rule does not yet extend to traditional public sector employees, Justice Alito made clear in his opinion that he thinks it should.

  • July 2, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Brandon L. Garrett, Roy L. and Rosamund Woodruff Morgan Professor of Law, University of Virginia School of Law

    Now a corporation can have sincere religious beliefs of legal significance.  Was yesterday’s long-awaited ruling in the Hobby Lobby case, a “narrow” ruling?  The Supreme Court majority did suggest that perhaps just “closely-held” for-profit companies, as believers, would be exempt from contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act of 2010. And the Court said it would not address whether a company could have First Amendment free exercise rights.  Was that notable restraint?  Even if so, the Court utterly lacked restraint in silently dodging a larger constitutional question: whether a company has standing under Article III of the Constitution to sue based on the religious beliefs of its separate owners.  

    Article III of the Constitution requires that there be a “Case or Controversy” and that a plaintiff suffer a “concrete injury” in order to sue.  To be sure, the parties did not push the issue, although lower courts considered and bitterly divided over the question.  None other than John G. Roberts, as a practicing lawyer, pointed out that just because Congress passes a law entitling someone to sue, does not mean they can constitutionally sue absent a concrete injury; he then called it a crucial principle of “judicial restraint.”  And yet in Hobby Lobby, the Court never directly addressed Article III standing.  The Court suggested that since the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993, used the word “person,” and that the federal “Dictionary Act” statute defines persons to include all manner of corporations, this was somehow enough.  Just saying that a corporation is a “person” though is not enough to allow it to sue on behalf of the beliefs of others.  

    After all, corporate persons have “no beliefs,” as Justice John Paul Stevens put it well, to no avail, in his dissent in Citizens United.  The best Justice Samuel Alito could come up with in the majority opinion in Hobby Lobby was a shaky 1961 decision including individual sole proprietor merchants – who all lost their religious exercise claim because the Court said it was not enough that a law made things “more expensive” for them.  As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg put it in her dissent, there is no discussion or suggestion in that case or in a similar 1961 case, that corporations have standing; “the exercise of religion is characteristic of natural persons, not artificial legal entities.”  

  • June 30, 2014

    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 30, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Sarah Warbelow, Legal Director, Human Rights Campaign

    Today, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in two cases, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation v. Burwell (Hobby Lobby), in which the Justices were asked to decide whether requiring a corporation to provide insurance coverage that includes contraception under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is a “substantial burden” on the corporation with religious objections, and whether corporations are covered by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA). The Court ruled that closely held for-profit corporations are exempt from complying with the ACA contraception mandate based on religious belief under RFRA.

    The lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community watched this decision with bated breath. Though ostensibly about birth control, the potential ramifications of this case could have been far-reaching. Religious beliefs have long been used as a basis to deny LGBT people access to basic civil rights. In the past year alone, more than a dozen states contemplated passing laws that would have permitted business owners to deny LGBT people services if the owner cited religious reasons for their actions. In her dissent, Justice Ginsburg expresses her concern that Hobby Lobby could lead to RFRA being used to permit discrimination against minority groups including LGBT people.

    Yet, in what is otherwise a very damaging decision, the Court expressly attempted to limit the implications of this ruling by explaining, “The principled dissent raises the possibility that discrimination in hiring, for example on the basis of race, might be cloaked as religious practice to escape legal sanction. Our decision today provides no such shield.” Justice Alito may have chosen race to illustrate his point, but the significance for the LGBT community is clear—employment non-discrimination laws are “precisely tailored to achieve that critical goal” of equal opportunity. Hobby Lobby will NOT serve as a free pass to utilize religion as a means of avoiding laws with which business would rather not comply.

  • 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.