Robert Dominic Ventre II
Content EditorThe case of Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby has reached the U.S. Supreme Court, with the opening oral arguments beginning yesterday, March 25th. At the start of the proceedings, three of the standing justices made it clear that they took issue with Hobby Lobby's claims. Right out of the gate, Judge Sotomayor was openly critical of Hobby Lobby's stance. Attorney Paul Clement had hardly begun his opening statements before Sotomayor interjected, asking Hobby Lobby's representation to clarify the subject of "corporate religion". “Is your claim limited to sensitive materials like contraceptives, or does it include items like blood transfusion, vaccines? For some religions, products made of pork?” She made some compelling arguments, not hesitating to cut to the quick with questions relating to the abstract nature of a religious corporate entity, and what their faith would entail for employees under their management. “How does a corporation exercise religion? How do we determine when a corporation has that belief? Who says it? The majority of shareholders? The corporate officers? Is it 51 percent? What happens to the minority?” When Clement referred to the potential fines that companies would suffer for not providing full insurance as "penalties", Sotomayor moved in for another blow, “It’s not called a penalty. It’s called a tax,” Despite appearing to favor Hobby Lobby's argument overall, Chief Justice John Roberts agreed with Sotomayor's statement. Justice Elena Kagan also stepped up to bat, defending the administration with zeal, though she did concede that she was unsure of the government's position that for-profit corporations lack religious rights, “I’m not sure I understand it as a threshold claim,” Kagan's primary concerns centered around President Obama's new healthcare system being turned into an impotent mess of petty restrictions and exemptions, should companies be free to use religion as a reason to opt out of any requirements it chooses. “One religious group could opt out of this, and another religious group could opt out of that, and everything would be piecemeal and nothing would be uniform,” Justice Kagan flatly rejected the notion that the ACA would force business owners to give up or compromise on their religious beliefs, arguing that, ”It’s not saying you must do something that violates your religion. It’s giving you a choice,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the last to openly express her support for the administration on Tuesday. She found fault with the idea of giving corporations free rein to evade anti-discrimination laws via religious concerns, fearing that such a power could easily be abused and taken further, “Your argument, it seems to me, would apply just as well if the employer said, ‘No contraceptives,'" The remaining six justices were more skeptical, not offering staunch support for either side, though some did appear to be leaning towards Hobby Lobby's argument for the time being. Justice Clarence Thomas kept silent during much of the proceedings. Though he had voted in 1997 to declare religious law inapplicable to states and localities, he has also displayed concern over both business and religious freedom in the past. Justice Antonin Scalia however was openly derisive of many arguments made for the administration, stating that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act does not expressly address concern for a third party, such as employees, “If they wanted you to balance the interest of the religious objector against the interest of other individuals, they made no reference to that in RFRA at all,” He also scoffed at the government's position of passing the financial burden of providing contraceptives to employers, stating that, “You’re talking about, what, three or four birth controls, not all of them, just those that are abortifacient. That’s not terribly expensive stuff, is it?” His position was made abundantly clear, and it appeared to revolve around concern for the financial well-being of corporations. Perhaps not surprising, considering his history with the Reagan administration. Justice Anthony Kennedy provided another ambiguous opinion, addressing both sides of the issue without outing his overall stance, though he did express concern over employers bullying their workers by way of their religious beliefs, “You can have hypotheticals about the employer makes them, wants to make them wear burkas and so forth. That’s not in this case. The employee may not agree with these religious beliefs of the employer. Does the religious beliefs just trump? Is that the way it works?” Later, Justice Kennedy struck out from the opposite side of the fence, arguing that requiring companies to provide contraceptives could theoretically lead to companies being required to pay for abortions, regardless of their beliefs. Chief Justice John Roberts proclaimed his support for the employers, suggesting that religious protection should only apply to private companies owned and operated by families or "no more than a few individuals". “Whether it applies in the other situations is a question that we’ll have to await another case when a large publicly traded corporation comes in and says: ‘We have religious principles.’ The sort of situation that I don’t think is going to happen,” Justice Stephen Breyer, standing alone from his peers, offered almost no opinion whatsoever, opting to listen silently before making few statements an hour into the discussion (with the preceding disclaimer that "[His] question reflects no point of view at all on [his] behalf,"). Breyer questioned what might come of permitting taxpayers to withhold taxes which would be spent on things they disagree with, stating, “I don’t think it matters whether they call themselves a corporation or whether they call themselves individuals,” Despite bringing up the notion of having the government pay for provided contraceptives when a religious company objects to them, Breyer appeared to tenuously support the administration. This has yet to be confirmed, of course, and could change at any time down the line. Justice Samuel Alito, however, was firm in his stance against the administration. “Do you agree with the proposition that … for-profit corporations must do nothing but maximize profits — they cannot have other aims, including religious aims?” Alito also decried the Obama administration's response to the plight of for-profit religious corporations, stating, “If you say they can’t even … get their day in court, you’re saying something pretty, pretty strong,” He concluded that providing a flat, unbiased verdict for the Hobby Lobby would be difficult, and that the issue at hand was being oversimplified, “Isn’t that really a question of theology or moral philosophy? It is a religious question, and it’s a moral question. And you want us to provide a definitive secular answer to it?” Each of the nine justices seemed to ally as one would expect - republicans widely leaned towards the corporations, whereas the democrats, most tellingly all three women present in court, supported the administration. At the very least, this proves that the issue will be debated for some time, and that a hasty verdict should not be a concern. Be sure to keep up with PopWrapped as we cover this unfolding story! (Thanks to
Politico.comfor providing a comprehensive breakdown of court proceedings and justice opinions - read their full report here. The Washington Wire has also been live-blogging the case, which can be read on their website).
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