On June 30, the U.S. Supreme Court struck a decisive blow to the rights of women and opened the door to continued abuses to other minorities. Ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby and two other corporations, the Court said closely-held, private, for-profit corporations could not be forced to comply with the new federal Affordable Care Act’s mandated contraception coverage if it violates the corporation’s and its owners’ religious liberties.
Pundits and legal analysts have classified the ruling as very narrow — applying to smaller, privately-held corporations and only on the question of contraception. But, the social and potential legal implications are as clear as day — to at least one dissenting justice and progressive folks across the country.
The ruling will, no doubt, open the doors to countless claims attempting to exempt corporations from complying with any law they find objectionable. All the reasoning they’ll need is a “sincerely held religious belief.”
And, though the initial case dealt only with contraception, I hold no illusions it will end there. The Court attempted to hand down a narrow ruling, and legal analysts and pundits are cautioning against over-reading the majority opinion. But, there’s a clear path now to broader challenges to the rights of all sorts contentious and often religiously opposed and debated healthcare issues.
“Would the exemption,” wrote Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, “…extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah’s Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations[?]…Not much help there for the lower courts bound by today’s decision.”
The Supreme Court’s newest Pandora’s Box also holds great potential to affect a variety of other minorities, including LGBT people. Conservatives will, no doubt, make arguments to that effect using this ruling.
Republican Mecklenburg County Commissioner Bill James pointed the path forward for conservatives on the day the ruling was handed down, writing on his Facebook profile, “The justices’ 5-4 decision Monday is the first time that the high court has ruled that profit-seeking businesses can hold religious views under federal law. And it means the Obama administration must search for a different way of providing free contraception to women who are covered under objecting companies’ health insurance plans. If corporations can hold religious views (they can already have political views under Citizens United) then they could be opposed (as a corporation to homosexual rights, trans surgery, abortion, medical coverage for anyone that isn’t one-man one woman.”
James added, “This will cause liberals decades of headaches.”
It isn’t often, but I have to agree with James on this one. I find his analysis honest, straight-forward and certainly likely.
Future cases could include a corporation which doesn’t want to provide joint healthcare policy coverage to same-sex couples and a corporation that refuses to pay for transition-related care (surgery or not) for transgender employees. Taken further down the logical line of reasoning, some corporations might sue to exempt themselves from local or state (and, potentially, future federal) non-discrimination ordinances and laws prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
And, at the state level, corporations and conservatives could begin anew their most recent push to enact so-called religious-freedom acts in state legislatures. In their case, Hobby Lobby relied upon the federal Religious Freedom Protection Act, of which dozens of state versions currently exist. Earlier this year, some states, like Arizona and Kansas, had attempted to pass more stringent state versions, potentially paving the way for small businesses like restaurants, hotels and other public accommodations to swing open wide the door to legal discrimination.
Make no mistake, the Hobby Lobby ruling will set the stage for legitimized discrimination, despite the Court’s long-held opinions providing a substantial government interest in preventing and prohibiting invidious discrimination. The Roberts court, despite some of its more progressive rulings (on the healthcare law and Defense of Marriage Act, for example) is very clearly building a dangerous legacy that could forever change this nation’s legal landscape — proving itself anti-worker, anti-health and anti-woman. Just a few days prior to the Hobby Lobby ruling, the Court struck down Boston’s ordinances providing a safety buffer for women seeking care at reproductive health facilities. On the same day as Hobby Lobby, the Court ruled against collective bargaining rights for workers.
With our system of government the way it is, there’s not much one can do to directly challenge the Supreme Court. The buck stops there, kiddos. Sort of. These recent rulings should serve as a wake-up call to all well-meaning citizens. Register to vote. Then actually go and vote. Pack our state and national legislatures full of progressive voices. Put a true progressive in the White House and governors’ mansions. Let’s provide true progressive checks and balances on this out-of-control Third Branch that seems more interested in the rights of corporations than the rights of those citizens for whom the Constitution was actually first written to protect. : :