by Craig Konnoth, Deputy Solicitor General, Office of the Solicitor General, California Department of Justice; Co-Author, Brief amici curiae of California, et al. in support of the Government, Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius; Member, Board of Directors, ACS Bay Area Lawyer Chapter
* The views expressed in this post are the author’s own, and do not reflect those of any institution with which he is affiliated or employed.
As the Supreme Court heard oral arguments today in the “contraceptive mandate” cases, one question that everyone is grappling with has to do with the ramifications of the decision. These cases concern whether the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which prohibits federal law from imposing a substantial burden on a person’s exercise of religion, excuses for-profit corporations from providing access to contraceptive coverage to their employees. For the Court to rule in favor of the corporations, it must hold that (1) a corporation has free exercise rights under the statute, (2) that the burden the mandate imposes is substantial and (3) the interests the mandate serves are not compelling. Ruling in favor of the plaintiffs on any of these grounds will have substantial effects for doctrine across the board.
However, one possible result that has received less (if any) attention is the effect that the Court’s holding will have on state laws relating to numerous areas including antidiscrimination, insurance coverage, land use and corporations law. There is good reason for this oversight. In Boerne v. Flores, the Supreme Court held that RFRA could not limit state law—so the Court’s holding as to the reach of RFRA will not inhibit the reach of state law. And because this is a statutory holding, and the Court shows no immediate signs of re-incorporating the RFRA test into constitutional doctrine, the effects on First Amendment doctrine (which does limit state law) will be limited.
But there is, nonetheless, a good chance that a loss for the government will affect state regulation. First, in the area of land use, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), unlike RFRA, has does (as of now, at least) apply to localities. While there may be textual reasons why RLUIPA could be read differently that do not bear deep excavation, the bottom line is that RLUIPA was basically modeled after RFRA. If corporations can invoke RFRA to escape federal regulation, they may well be able to invoke RLUIPA to escape basic zoning regulation, from which, so far, only churches and religious institutions have so far been exempt.
This morning, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius. Adam Liptak of The New York Times provides a helpful analysis of the cases while Robert Barnes at The Washington Post breaks down the “vocally devout justices” and the role religion may play in their decision. For more discussion, watch an ACS briefing on the dual challenges known as the “contraception mandate cases.”
Twenty-three years ago, Anita Hill accused then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. In an interview with Hill, DahliaLithwick at Slate reviews the new documentary Anita and describes how “Hill’s testimony had a huge impact on sexual harassment law, and in the public discourse.”
Officials in Mississippi are waiting for approval from the state supreme court to execute Michelle Byrom, a mentally ill woman accused of murdering her husband. Andrew Cohen at The Atlantic explains why “the case of Michelle Byrom contains the unholy trinity of constitutional flaws sadly so common in these capital cases.”
The Obama administration is expected to propose “an end to the [National Security Agency’s] mass collection of Americans' phone call data.” The Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman has the story.
Karen Tani at Legal History Blog reviews The Crusade for Equality in the Workplace: The Griggs v. Duke Power Story by the late Robert Belton.
But that may be changing, thanks to ACS board member Reuben Guttman and his colleagues at Grant and Eisenhofer. Last week, Grant and Eisenhofer won an important ruling against Hershey in Delaware Chancery Court, when Hershey lost its summary judgment motion in a "books and records" suit brought on behalf of Hershey shareholders who want to learn more about its role in taking advantage of forced child labor.
An early procedural victory in Delaware business court might not look like much at first glance, but it could turn out to be a significant advance in holding corporations accountable for international malfeasance. And if it does, ACS will have played an important role. Indeed, this story showcases the unique capacity of ACS to bring together the ideas of academics with innovative and visionary litigators who can bring those ideas to bear.
As the Supreme Court prepares to hear Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius, Leslie C. Griffin at Hamilton and Griffin on Rights discusses why “Conestoga could provide a more important—and dangerous—precedent than Hobby Lobby.” Walter Dellinger, Member of the ACS Board of Advisors, writes an op-ed for The Washington Post explaining why the Court should “reject claims of religious entitlement that so greatly burden the interests of others.” For more on the “contraception mandate” cases, read Professor Griffin’s ACSblogpost on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and more.
Just weeks after Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed legislation that would allow businesses to discriminate on the basis of religion, an attempt in Georgia, to pass a similar bill last Thursday, has failed. Georgia Republican State Sen. Josh McKoon “attempted to attach the measure to two unrelated bills in the state legislature, hoping to get the controversial measure passed on the last day of the session.” Adam Serwer at MSNBC has the story.
Writing for the The New York Times, Member of the ACS Board of Directors Linda Greenhouse comments on the most recent decision from the high court regarding railroad rights-of-way to reveal “how far the Supreme Court should go to acknowledge the real-world context of its decisions.”
The public’s call for more transparency at the high court continues. At Jost On Justice, Kenneth Jost comments on the “Supreme Court’s obsession with secrecy.”
Gerard Magliocca at Concurring Opinions reveals how the “Four Horsemen”—the four conservative justices who opposed President Roosevelt’s New Deal programs from 1932–1937—made it to the Supreme Court.
The friend-of-the-court brief authored by Dawn Johnsen, a distinguished professor at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law (and a member of the ACS Board), and includes former U.S. Solicitor General Walter Dellinger as Counsel of Record explains that the for-profit companies – an arts-and-crafts chain store and a cabinet manufacturer – have “failed to recognize the vastly different effectiveness and cost of different forms of contraception, the substantial degree to which cost determines which contraceptive methods are actually used, the health and social factors that affect a woman’s method of choice, and the resulting consequences for women’s health, family and well-being, and risk of unintended pregnancy and abortion.”
In the brief, Johnsen and Dellinger note that cost-sharing promoted by the Affordable Care Act is critical to allowing every woman to have access to the most effective forms of contraception available. It is claimed that hormonal intrauterine devices (IUD) are “45 times more effective than oral contraceptives and 90 times more effective than male condoms in preventing pregnancy based on typical use” and that “[a]lmost one-third of American women report that they would change their contraceptive method if cost were not an issue.” However, the cost of IUDs is an overwhelming issue for many Americans as implantation can cost “a month’s salary for a woman working full time at minimum wage.”
To rule in favor of the corporations in these cases “would deny to female employees and their insured family members vital access to the full range of contraceptive methods, inflicting financial harm and erecting obstacles to needed medical care.”