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.
This week, the American Civil Liberties Union advised the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to reject an Arizona law denying bail to immigrants in the country illegally. While those defending the law claim that it is meant to “improve public safety, not punish people for federal immigration violations,” the ACLU maintains that “Latino detainees are [being] unfairly held while other nationalities are allowed to put up bond.” Paul Elias of the The Associated Press has the story.
In Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which required select jurisdictions to submit all changes in voting rules to the Justice Department for review. Writing for MSNBC, Adam Serwer comments on the role Chief Justice John Roberts played in the controversial decision and the implications of “equal sovereignty.” For further analysis on Shelby County, please see ACSbloganalysis by Spencer Overton, former ACS Board Member and the President and CEO of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.
At CPRBlog, James Goodwin follows the developing legal dispute concerning Duke Energy’s violation of the Clean Water Act. Goodwin explains why “federal prosecutors are now looking into whether North Carolina’s environmental regulators engaged in any criminal activity in their efforts to shield Duke.”
Steven R. Morrison at PrawfsBlawg notes “a rare move in terrorism (and all criminal) cases” concerning former Al-Qaeda spokesman Sulaiman Abu Ghayth.
On C-SPAN, Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan reflects on her “life and career” in a conversation with Georgetown University Law Center students.
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 we await a decision from the Supreme Court in the McCutcheon v. FEC money in politics case, the Justices themselves heard from a protester who rose in the courtroom to proclaim that “money is not speech, corporations are not people” and to urge the Court to “overturn Citizens United.”
That this breach was so surprising reminds us how cut-off the Supreme Court is from the life of the country. That separation also comes through in what the Justices had to say in the McCutcheon oral argument. Their comments illustrate flashpoints that underlie the Court’s money in politics cases and shed light on the fundamental fissures we may see in their decision.
1. Does the Court understand the Real World?
A fundamental lack of understanding surfaced regarding the real world context in which aggregate contribution limits operate, the implications and enforcement of other rules, and the need for a developed factual record to make informed judgments.
Several justices expressed concern that the Court was being asked to make a decision that wouldn’t be properly grounded in fact. Justice Sotomayor expressed surprise that the Court was being asked to determine the potential factual implications of striking the limits almost entirely in the abstract, since determining whether the government interest is sufficient to justify the law is impossible to judge in isolation. Questioning McCutcheon’s attorney on his claim that other laws are sufficient to stop corruption, she said:
Don’t you need facts to prove or disprove that proposition?
Justices also questioned the assertion that candidates wouldn’t be aware of who was making large aggregate donations. Justice Kagan observed:
[A candidate] knows all of his hundred thousand dollar donors, there are not all that many of them. He can keep them all in his head in a mental Rolodex.
Justice Sotomayor echoed this:
[I]t’s very hard to think that any candidate doesn’t know the contributor ... I mean, it’s nearly common sense, hard to dispute.
The Roberts Court has been mistaken about the workings of campaign finance law in the past, for example when it incorrectly assumed all the new money let in by Citizens United would be disclosed and transparent. It is a serious thing that the Court appears uninterested in grappling with a record to establish the real world operation of these rules, since their contestation and resolution is at the heart of these cases.