Monday, June 30, 2014

***UPDATE*** Supreme Court Ruled in Favor of Corporate Challenge to ObamaCare's Contraception Provision

On January 21, 2010, the Supreme Court ruled in the landmark case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that corporations have a 1st Amendment Right to Free Speech and the Court further ruled that Free Speech = spending money in elections.  Put those two ideas together and you get the Super PACs of 2012 which spent more than $600 million dollars trying to influence the presidential election.  This led many people, both inside and outside of the legal community, to criticize Citizens United as one of the worst Supreme Court decisions in a generation.  At the heart of the ruling, the Court bought into the notion that Mitt Romney was right when he famously said "Corporations are people, my friend."  Indeed, the Court's most conservative Justice, Antonin Scalia, wrote his own separate concurring opinion which harshly criticized liberal Justice John Paul Stevens (now retired) for writing in his own dissenting opinion that corporations are not members of society and therefore should not have Free Speech rights.  According to Scalia, "[t]he [First] Amendment is written in terms of "speech," not speakers..[i]ts text offers no foothold for excluding any category of speaker, from single individuals to partnerships of individuals, to unincorporated associations of individuals, to incorporated associations of individuals."   In other words, corporations are nothing more than a collection of individual people who all have the individual right to Free Speech so, therefore, corporations should have the right to Free Speech.  Under this logic, corporations should be able to own and use guns, vote in elections, and practice their own religion.

Speaking of corporations practicing their own religion, the Supreme Court has officially decided to hear 2 cases which will decide just that.  The cases are Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood v. Sebelius.  We'll give a break down of what is at stake in each case after the jump.

Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby
Very briefly, the issue in this case is whether federal law allows a corporation (in this case, Hobby Lobby) to refuse to provide its employees with health insurance that includes contraceptives to which the employees are entitled to under ObamaCare if providing contraceptives goes against the religious beliefs of the corporation's owners.  The federal law at issue is the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 ("RFRA").  That law, signed into effect by President Clinton, was passed to prevent other laws (be they state or federal) from infringing on a person's 1st Amendment right to free practice of religion.  The RFRA says that the government “shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” unless that burden is the least restrictive means to further a compelling governmental interest.  Hobby Lobby contends that ObamaCare violates this law.  The federal government contends that it does not.

Conestoga Wood v. Sebelius
This case gets down to the heart of the matter.  In this case, the Supreme Court is being asked to decide whether the contraceptive-coverage mandate of ObamaCare infringes on the constitutional rights of a family-owned business. Stated differently, do corporations have a 1st Amendment right to the Free Exercise of Religion?

And, for the record, this is the text of the 1st Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Should Corporations Have a 1st Amendment Right to the Free Exercise of Religion?
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UPDATE:
Per Chicago Tribune:
The U.S. Supreme Court today ruled that business owners can object on religious grounds to a provision of President Obama's healthcare law that requires companies to provide health insurance that covers birth control.
The court held on a 5-4 vote on ideological lines that such companies can seek an exemption from the so-called birth control mandate of the healthcare law. The decision means employees of those companies will have to obtain certain forms of birth control from other sources.
In a majority opinion by conservative Justice Samuel Alito, the court said the ruling applies only to the birth control mandate and does not mean companies would necessarily succeed if they made similar claims to other insurance requirements, such as vaccinations and drug transfusions.
In the majority opinion, Alito indicated that employees could still be able to obtain the birth control coverage via an accommodation to the mandate that the Obama administration has already introduced for religious-affiliated nonprofits. The accommodation allows health insurance companies to provide the coverage without the employer being involved in the process.
Under the accommodation, eligible non-profits must provide a "self certification", described by one lower court judge as a "permission slip" authorizing insurance companies to provide the coverage. The accommodation is itself the subject of a separate legal challenge.
The justices ruled for the first time that for-profit companies can make claims under a 1993 federal law called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).
The decision will affect similar cases brought by employers around the country. There are 49 cases in total, according to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. Religious institutions are already exempt from the requirement.
The company owners involved in litigation around the country do not all oppose every type of birth control. Some, including Hobby Lobby and Conestoga, object only to emergency contraceptive methods, such as the so-called morning-after pill, which they view as akin to abortion.
The cases are Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood v. Burwell, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 13-354, 13-356.
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