Here’s What People Are Saying About SCOTUS’ Big Decisions in Hobby Lobby and Harris

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Supreme Court Justices, from left, Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts, Associate Justices of the Supreme Court Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan applaud State of the Union Address,12 Feb 2013 (Rex Features via AP Images)

Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts, Associate Justices of the Supreme Court Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan applaud State of the Union Address,12 Feb 2013 (Rex Features via AP Images)

The Supreme Court issued rulings in two closely watched cases this morning. Both were 5-4 decisions.

In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the majority ruled that closely held for-profit corporations can’t be held to the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate. The justices clarified that the ruling does not apply to other insurance mandates — like vaccinations, or blood transfusions. It also can’t be used to shield companies owned by religious people against claims of discrimination.

In the second case, Harris v. Quinn,  the court ruled that home health workers who enjoy the benefits of collective bargaining can’t be compelled to pay a “fair share” of a public sector union’s direct costs for negotiating on their behalf (this is commonly misreported as a question of whether people can be forced to join a union, which is illegal).  The court did not extend the ruling to all public employees’ unions, although they may revisit the question in the future.

Here’s a roundup of what people are saying about today’s highly anticipated rulings.

At Scotusblog, Kevin Russell writes that the majority ruled that for-profit corporations are “persons” under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, but as his colleague Amy Howe notes, they only considered “closely held corporations …owned and controlled by members of a single family” and took a pass on the question of whether this might apply to publicly traded companies.

Although the ruling was narrowly tailored, Adam Liptak reports for The New York Times that it “opened the door to challenges from other corporations to many laws that may be said to violate their religious liberty.”

Michael Lindenberger reports for the Dallas Morning News that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) released a statement lauding the decision and predicting that “hundreds more plaintiffs will wend their way through the courts” with related claims.

And while the decision focuses only on “closely held” corporations, as Sarah Kliff points out at Vox, “Since about 90 percent of companies are, however, closely-held, its unclear how much of a difference that distinction makes in the ruling’s scope.”

But Ian Millhiser reports for ThinkProgress that the ruling “emphasizes that there are other steps the government could take to ensure that Hobby Lobby’s employees have access to birth control, such as by paying for it themselves or by extending an accommodation for religious non-profits so that it also covers private employers.”

Amanda Marcotte, writing at Slate, argues that while Hobby Lobby won its case,  it will have lost a major PR battle if employees of companies like Hobby Lobby end up being covered anyway — and the Christian right comes off looking like “little more than a movement of sex-obsessed busybodies.”

Hobby Lobby doesn’t object to all birth control methods, only what religious conservatives have characterized as “abortifacients.” But Erika Eichelberger and Molly Redden point out that there is no scientific basis for the distinction.

At ThinkProgress, Jack Jenkins writes that “while conservatives would have the American public believe that protecting Hobby Lobby is about protecting all religious people, the reality is that today’s ruling actually hurts people of faith.”

In addition to the fact that the vast majority of religious Americans use birth control, Jenkins notes:

Other evangelical Christians take umbrage with the theological premise undergirding [Hobby Lobby’s] case — namely, that opposing the ACA mandate is somehow an extension of a pro-life position. Richard Cizik, former Vice President for Governmental Affairs for the National Association of evangelicals, wrote in the Huffington Post this weekend that evangelicals who support Hobby Lobby “are not actually being pro-religious freedom or pro-life.” Similarly, Julia K. Stronks, evangelical Christian and political science professor at Whitworth University, teamed up with Jeffrey F. Peipert, a Jewish family-planning physician, to pen an op-ed for Roll Call earlier this month in which they argue that granting Hobby Lobby religious exemption will actually lead to more abortions.

MoJo’s Dana Liebelson went through Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s Hobby Lobby dissent and pulled out her best lines of attack.

And TNR’s Jonathan Cohn argues that Hobby Lobby shows why the public sector, rather than private companies, should provide health insurance.

Of Harris v. Quinn, SCOTUSBlog’s Tom Goldstein writes, “It remains possible that in a later case the Court will overturn its prior precedent and forbid requiring public employees to contribute to union bargaining. But today it has refused to go that far. The unions have lost a tool to expand their reach. But they have dodged a major challenge to their very existence.”

The Economic Policy Institute’s Ross Eisenbrey writes that in Harris, SCOTUS “turned back the clock on hundreds of thousands of home care and child care workers who have managed to improve their work lives through collective bargaining.”

Thanks to union contracts that include anti-free rider provisions, this almost entirely female workforce has made huge improvements in wages and benefits, in training, and in respect in the states that provide for collective bargaining. The Court gives this no value and says the right of the free riders to have the benefits of union contracts without having to pay anything for them is the preeminent constitutional value. The Court majority’s balancing of interests is skewed: the right to vote democratically for a union contract that holds everyone to the same obligation and makes improved wages and working conditions possible is more important than the right to get something for nothing.

In a preview of the ruling, Ian Millhiser noted that the home care workers did quite well with collective bargaining:

By any reasonable objective measure, the union struck a very good deal for Illinois’ home health aides. Before the union negotiated a collective bargaining agreement, the aides’ wages were just $7.00 an hour. Now they are $11.65 an hour, and they are scheduled to increase to $13.00 per hour in December. Nevertheless, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation (NRWLDF), an anti-union litigation shop, found a handful of home health aides who object to this arrangement.

Steven Greenhouse reports for The New York Times that the ruling could have been far worse for public sector unions:

Justice Alito wrote that home-care aides who are typically employed by an ill or disabled person with Medicaid’s paying their wages would be classified as partial public employees, which would not be the same as public-school teachers or police officers who work directly for the government….

The case, Harris v. Quinn, was brought by eight Illinois workers who provided home health care to Medicaid recipients. They asked the court to overrule a 1977 decision that declared that government employees can be required to pay fees to unions for representing them and administering their contracts even if they disagree with the union’s positions. The majority declined to overrule that foundational decision, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education — a move that could have significantly cut into the membership and treasuries of public-sector unions.

But at MSNBC, Adam Serwer argues that the conservative majority questioned the foundation of Abood v. Detroit, and thinks it was a significant signal of their future intentions.

At oral argument, the group urged the Justices to overturn [Abood]. The court did not do so – though the majority refers to its “foundations” as “questionable” …

“The good news out of this case is clear: The majority declined that radical request. The Court did not, as the petitioners wanted, deprive every state and local government, in the management of their employees and programs, of the tool that many have thought necessary and appropriate to make collective bargaining work,” wrote Justice Elena Kagan in a dissent joined by the other Democratic appointees. “The bad news is just as simple: The majority robbed Illinois of that choice in administering its in-home care program.”

The Roberts court has in the past, offered warnings of its future intentions to gut prior precedents or laws that have been upheld, such as when it upheld a key section of the Voting Rights Act in 2009 before striking it down in 2013. By calling the Abood decision “questionable,” the conservative majority may very well be signalling its intention to overrule it in the future.

So Kagan’s “good news” might be quite temporary.

You can download the decisions in both Hobby Lobby and Harris from the Supreme Court’s website.

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  • anja

    Why exclude just contraception and not vaccinations, or blood
    transfusions? What is the difference. They all religious objections that negatively effect people & society.

  • Anonymous

    “Molly Redden point out that there is no scientific basis for the distinction.”


    Yes but you have to remember that you are dealing with bedwetters here… folks who think the earth is 10,000 years old or some such nonsense like that.

    Since when did the rule get passed that ignorance gets the same platform as intelligence?

  • Stellaa

    Selective religiosity selects issues that involve women only. Of course, Hobby Lobbies religiosity test does not apply to them buying all their supplies from China where the national policy involves forced abortions. Is a Scientoligist less offended if he has to pay for anti-depressants?

  • Anonymous

    Its not 10,000 years old…its only 6,000 years old, heretic! I know because I saw this Kentucky museum!

  • Anonymous

    Hey their men folk can still get Viagra!

  • Strawman

    “Since when did the rule get passed that ignorance gets the same platform as intelligence?”

    Since the religious right became a major player in the GOP, starting with the Reagan administration, and subsequently moving the mainstream duopoly inexorably to the right.

    The new normal is, “My ignorance deserves a full airing in competition with your facts. Your refusal proves you are making war on my ignor–, er, religion.”

    Given the corporate ownership of politicians (and increasingly, of the courts), I don’t expect anything like a correction any time soon.

  • laytonian

    Those will have to be separate cases AND THEY WILL BE.

  • Justinian Demonte

    As for the “no scientific basis” claim, the issue is whether such forms of contraception *can be* abortifacient, not whether that is the intended purpose of the contraception. Do a simple Google search (as I just did) and you will come across the manufacturer’s own statement (from the label of Plan B) which says that their product can prevent fertilized eggs from attaching to the uterine wall. This counts as a (possible) abortifacient.

  • Anonymous

    It seems that if you don’t want to belong to the union, that is fine, you’ll accept the wage outside of which the union collectively bargained. So the non-union wage is $7/hour and the union wage (if you belong to one) is $11.65. Easy breezy.

  • agio

    This is the most disturbing aspect of the ruling–the precedent that a “belief’ doesn’t have to comport with known scientific facts so long as it is “sincerely held”.

  • AndyW

    Maybe we can use this as a positive towards a true single-payer healthcare solution. My cartoon… prior to SCOTUS ruling,

  • Dulcinian

    Seems the rights of a few, a minority, and wealthy besides, are more precious in the eyes of this court than are the rights of many, perhaps much closer to a majority, and not that rich besides. Not just the Hobby Lobby ruling. We are all aware now that the free speech of very rich people (in the guise of corporations) is more equal than the rest of our free speech rights.

    As for the other ruling–what the hell demented hell planet are these jokers from?? Just make unions unconstitutional somehow and get it over with. I’m sure they have some fantasy argument in mind already. It’s Roberts and his “I’m reasonable, don’t you know” nonsense. He wants boil us gradually, so we won’t notice the death of our constitutional rights.

  • CandaceTX

    Asking seriously….
    ■ Don’t employers receive tax deductions for the cost of the insurance they provide their employees (hence, employer-provided insurance is subsidized by taxpayers)?

    ■ Don’t employees contribute to the premiums of their healthcare also (as insurance is part of the compensation for their labor, and they pay witth their wages part of the premium)?

    ■ So, employer-provided healthcare is paid for by three entities: the taxpayer (thru subsidy), the employer, and the employee (thru their contribution of both labor and wages)

    So, why does an employer have 100% say over something for which they do not bear 100% of the cost?

  • Giordano Bruno

    Isn’t God the greatest abortionist? Fifty percent of fertilizations fail spontaneously before the mother knows she is pregnant. Is God responsible for those abortions?

  • CandaceTX

    You can only abort a pregnancy. Pregnancies only happen once a fertilized egg implants. Preventing implantation does not abort a pregnancy, it prevents one.

  • Giordano Bruno

    There should be term limits on Supreme Court Justices (and Senators and Congressmen).

  • Duane Mortensen

    What happens when an Imam states all health care is illegal? When will sharia law take over? We will soon be a total Theocracy. Religion was held separate from the government by the founding fathers for a reason. This is madness.

  • Jamie Lawson

    This is a really interesting argument. Can the employees of Hobby Lobby sue claiming that they demand the protections guaranteed by ACA since they are in effect paying for their insurance?

  • Donna

    Many, many fertilized eggs do not implant for various reasons. Using the fertilization as the start of pregnancy is inaccurate… Only by implanting does a fertilized egg have the means to develop, as a viable pregnancy. If you want to hark to “life” let me assure you that eggs and sperm are just as “alive” with all the tools to make a human being, as the fertilized egg is.. It’s just a stage in possibilities. And Giordano is correct. At least 50% of all PREGNANCIES end in spontaneous abortion..

  • Donna

    Yeaaaahh… Because 5 GUYS made this decision and I can make a wild guess how they’d vote on THAT one.

  • Anonymous

    Whats more disturbing is that these 5 mad men admitted that the science refutes their claim!!!! We are entering Taliban territory now! We are seriously screwed!

  • Anonymous

    First of all The courts don’t need to require Federal Unions to do anything Why? Because they already do not require their employee’s to not join or pay union dues if they so choose not to It is highly encouraged they do because they do benefit weather they do or not an most employee’s understand this an comply because it’s the right thing to do. The courts would do well to STF out of it.

  • Stellaa

    I thought the Bible has something to say about fornicators. Unmarried men are prohibited from fornication. Another selective religiosity swath.

  • Anonymous

    1) It is time we started dealing with Corporations on their own terms. If “Corporations are People”, then they need to be treated like people. If by their actions, they do harm to the people of this country, then, they need to be charged with said crime, adjudicated,
    sentenced and were applicable, executed. It is time for action by the people.

    2) Women will not be guniea pigs for an out of control judicial system. As I understand it, it is not the Supreme Court’s directive to make the laws…they are to consider what
    is brought before them and if it has merit as a case then the “case” may go forward and it can be tried in a court of law in accordance with our Constitution. They do not set precedence. They are not kings unto themselves or this land. It is time for action by the people.

  • Anonymous

    Excuse me! You are ssuming that these or other people can read and reason.
    In certain southern states ( or more) cutting back or cutting out science classes and letting their churches tell people that the Earth is only 6 thousands years old and they show pictures of Jesus riding on a dinosaur…..then this is what you get. And….. from MY perspective this kind of ignorance is costly and dangerous for this country and its people. Rightwing wet-dreams being set up as the law of the land is a recipe for a revolution.

    I say let them keep doing what they are doing ( they really are helping with their own demise ) and then the whole of the country will sooner or later become insensed when they find out they have lost their “freedoms” from within.

  • JonThomas

    The only thing I am really curious of is whether the owners would have closed Hobby Lobby’s doors for good had they lost the case.

  • gwynthfair

    You make an excellent point. Why does the employer’s religious belief trump the beliefs of the employee?

  • Anonymous

    No because of the one true god they worship money

  • Steven Michaels

    Is it official then ? Capitalism is a religion?

  • Anonymous

    Are adjunct professors partial employees? Does that mean our union’s free rider provision can be eliminated? Since 70% of college and universities faculty members are adjuncts, how will this affect higher education?

  • wishiknew

    If abiding by US law in operating your business falls outside of the realm of your belief system, you should either look to your religion to provide you with the strength to see it through or you should simply not own a business.

    The Hobby Lobby decision is not about birth control at all. It is about the power of private wealth over all others. But we will ALL lose as a result, except for the attorneys. As more and more of these private corporations sue for similar rights, and more individuals sue for restoration of their own rights, billions of dollars will be wasted, abortion rates will rise, and the whole thing will have been an effort in futility.

    I give Hobby Lobby about 5 years. The lawsuits will bury them.

  • Anonymous

    Looking on the bright side here, I think the owners of Hobby
    Lobby will now be exposed for the hypocrites they are.

    All that ‘stuff” they buy from China was made by workers who earn less than ten dollars a day. Another thing that will come out of this is the fact that much of it was made by child labor. This is how Hobby Lobby can sell all those trinkets for next to nothing.

    China’s still has a one-child policy, which discourages having daughters. So much so that it is responsible for some 13 million abortions each year. Think of it. Hobby Lobby is billions to China to prop up a regime that allows (requires would be a better word) families to abort their children….especially if they are female.

    If Hobby Lobby owners were really concerned about abortions, they would quit doing business in China and hire people in this country to make their knick-knacks.

    It’s not about birth control…’s about money.

  • AnnaFrieda

    I cannot believe the Hobby Lobby lawsuit was debated by the Supreme Court. I thought the separation of church and state would have been clear in that people can live out their religion at home and church, and for all else secular laws apply, especially in business.
    In the Harris ruling, this woman reminds of the people in the books “What’s the matter with Kansas” and “Deer Hunting with Jesus”. Fighting against their own self-interest, unable to see the bigger picture of what is happening. I just hope all this does not spread to the point of no return, where we suddenly live in a Hobby Lobby theocracy surrounded by ignoramuses like this Harris woman.

  • Anonymous

    as Thelma
    explained I cannot believe that a stay at home mom can make $7420 in four weeks
    on the internet . more info here R­e­x­1­0­.­C­O­M­

  • Lion lady

    Seems like the rapidly growing secular segment of U.S. society needs freedom FROM religion rather than freedom OF religion!

  • anja

    None of the cases should have even gotten as far as the supreme court as they are obviously violations of of the majority of Americans religious freedom.

  • Jamie Lawson

    I wouldn’t expect an individual employee to sue. But I can imagine the ACLU or similar organization seeing an opportunity to make law take up the case on behalf of a group of employees.

  • HopeWFaith

    It is these exact rulings, policies, along with door to door proselytizing and narrow minded reasoning, which turn so many people totally off to all religion. Unfortunate that such hateful people are having such a negative impact on the very thought of spiritual practice. But so be it.

    If the narrow minds on the mostly right side of the aisle want to continue to spread hatred and misleading concepts, and pass rulings that demean and stifle the American Citizens’ Rights, then we on the left will have to overcome their power by rising up in VOICE and making sure we CONSTANTLY, without fail, demand the opposite from our government. Our voices are simply not rising up with great enough speed, often enough, and not in a united enough effort. We can be heard, if we decide we will cooperate with each other enough to BE heard. It is up to us.

  • HopeWFaith

    The Roberts court is indeed telling litigants to get busy, that it is ready to overturn previous rulings, and will cooperate with destroying liberties that have been well established for American Citizens. If Justice Roberts won’t become more rational, then Americans need to DEMAND that he STEP DOWN. A vast and loud VOICE from Americans just might cause that to happen.

    Power needs to be restored to the People in the USA, and I do not mean it in the way republicans do. I mean through our Constitution, our Laws, and Policies. There is nothing righteous about tearing down our government, destroying jobs, controlling women’s choices, but there is righteousness in building our government on sound, logical, laws and rulings that help PEOPLE OVER CORPORATIONS.

  • HopeWFaith

    Now there is an idea worth spreading, demanding they do. I called my local Hobby Lobby yesterday and told them I will not be doing business with them ever again!

  • Lion lady

    I’m in complete agreement that we need to loudly raise our objections in a united way. The problem is that there seem to be dozens of organizations each with nearly the same progressive agenda and each with a hand out for money to continue their work. This splintering of effort and funds isn’t working. A well liked, well-recognized, and FOCUSED leadership group, preferably a youngish, educated, and articulate one, might rally the needed action and bring together the disparate groups. Successful revolutions often emerge from the young of the middle class. Maybe ours are just too busy playing with their electronic toys or start-ups to bother!

    Also, big VOICES usually do need big money, at least initially, and many of our big money philanthropists are busy trying to cure malaria and end hunger in Africa while Rome burns. That’s safer for them than saving the democracy that created them. Some are throwing money at our educational system while ignoring the structural and policy issues that
    undermine it and which they may in fact be party to. If I sound cynical, it’s because I see so many of the things I fought for in the sixties going under the bus

  • AndrewB

    The employee pays 100% of the cost. The “employer contribution” is not a gift, but effectively comes out of pre-tax wages and is redirected to health insurance due to the preferential tax treatment of employer-provided insurance as you point out.

    Still none of that changes the fact that employers have every right to offer any mix of wages and compensation they wish to employees and employees have every right to reject that offer. Nobody has a right to use force to retroactively change the terms of their agreement with somebody to achieve an outcome they couldn’t negotiate voluntarily.

  • JonThomas

    Awww… I’ve always liked door to door proselytizing. Seriously, how cool to have the opportunity to discuss important topics with our neighbors.

    Not one person that I’ve talked to who has come to my door has been ‘hateful’. Rather, even those with whom I disagreed were quite loving and concerned people doing their best to help the world around them.

    Not to challenge you too much, but I really don’t see where such people are having a ‘negative impact.’

  • Justinian Demonte

    No one is disagreeing with when pregnancy begins. People are disagreeing about what constitutes an abortifacient. I am well aware that the certain scientific communities (not, e.g., the Catholic scientific community) considers “abortion” to only refer to the termination of a pregnancy. But traditional Christians are not only concerned with pregnancy; they are concerned with conception and fertilization, and the interference with that process. So they consider emergency contraception or IUDs to be abortifacients because, for them, there is a moral equivalence to terminating a pregnancy and preventing implantation. It is this perceived moral equivalence (not a confusion about the science) that justifies their appropriation and extension of “abortifacient.”

  • CandaceTX

    They oppose contraception that prevents ovulation; that prevents an egg from being released to even be fertilized.

    No egg, no fertilization, no abortion.

    Studies show that the morning after pill (which prevents ovulation) doesn’t even work on a fertilized egg or on an already established pregnancy…which renders your whole point moot.

    These things do not cause abortion. No matter how you slice it… they just dont.

    oh and by the way… the earth is round too.

  • Justinian Demonte

    Yes, many eggs do not implant for various reasons? And?

    No, I will not “hark” to “life.” The issue is not a matter of whether something is alive, but what that something is. A spermatoza and a fertilized egg have fundamentally different ontologies, even if I grant that the latter is alive. (Just a an insect and a person have fundamentally different ontologies even though both are alive.)

    No serious commentator is using fertilization as the start of pregnancy. Traditional Christians are, rather, using fertilization as the start of moral consideration equivalent to the moral consideration given to fetuses, infants, and adults. The question is not when pregnancy begins, but when obligation begins. That is not a scientific question but a moral and, for them, theological one.

    I’m not sure what point you are trying to make by saying that 50% of pregnancies end in spontaneous abortion. Do you think that because abortion occurs spontaneously that one no longer has a right to their religious belief that you should not deliberately induce an abortion? Would you extend this same logic to cases of infant mortality? If infant mortality reaches 50% do I no longer have to respect the life of living infants?

  • Justinian Demonte

    No. But I can’t spend the time here explaining the fundamentals of Christian theology. I suggest reading some sophisticated theodicies (responses to the problem of evil) and Christian theology regarding the fall.

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