In its last day in session, the high court not only affirmed corporate personhood but expanded the human rights of corporations, who by some measures enjoy more protections than mortals — or “natural persons,” as the court calls the type of people who do not incorporate in Delaware. In 2010, the court ruled that corporations are people for the purposes of making unrestricted political contributions. Now, the court has decided that some corporations have religious beliefs, just like other people. [...]The Detroit Free Press:
Ginsburg, in her dissent, wrote: “Until this litigation, no decision of this Court recognized a for-profit corporation’s qualification for a religious exemption. . . . The exercise of religion is characteristic of natural persons, not artificial legal entities. As Chief Justice Marshall observed nearly two centuries ago, a corporation is ‘an artificial being, invisible, intangible, and existing only in contemplation of law.’ [...] Alito’s ruling was, Ginsburg said, an “expansive notion of corporate personhood.” She invoked the writing of former justice John Paul Stevens, who wrote that corporations “have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires.”
Stevens might have delivered the dissent himself, but he was watching Monday’s proceedings from the section reserved for retired justices. Artificial persons don’t grow old, but natural persons do.
Flying under the false colors of religious liberty, the five Catholics in the majority insisted they were acting to protect the constitutional rights of two closely held corporations owned and operated by Christian families. [...] Now, in yet another ruling that belittles the general public’s stake in a crucial public health issue, the court’s conservatives have again expanded the prerogatives of corporate employers at the expense of ordinary workers. The latter can only hope — or perhaps pray — that the collateral damages arising from that expansion remain limited.The New York Times:
It was the first time the court has allowed commercial business owners to deny employees a federal benefit to which they are entitled by law based on the owners’ religious beliefs, and it was a radical departure from the court’s history of resisting claims for religious exemptions from neutral laws of general applicability when the exemptions would hurt other people. [...]Much more below the fold.
Mr. Alito’s ruling and a concurrence by Justice Anthony Kennedy portray the decision as a narrow one without broader application, like denying vaccine coverage or job discrimination. But that is not reassuring coming from justices who missed the point that denying women access to full health benefits is discrimination.
[T]he decision gives business owners the right to weasel out of their legal obligations by sticking you and me with the bill. [...]David Firestone examines the political repercussions of the Hobby Lobby decision:
Here the court's majority rules that a privately held company is, in effect, a "person" that can express religious convictions. Alito sugarcoats that finding, acknowledging that corporate personhood is a "fiction," but one designed to "provide protection for human beings."
Ginsburg also picks that assertion clean. "The exercise of religion is characteristic of natural persons, not artificial legal entities," she writes, quoting retired Justice John Paul Stevens as having observed in the Citizens United case that corporations "have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires."
Today's decision invests them with all the consciences, beliefs, thoughts, and desires of characters from Tolstoy. And that's a lot.
Minutes after the court ruled that closely held corporations have religious rights that permit them to deny contraceptive benefits to employees, Democrats made clear that they would use the case to remind women of the personal consequences of this kind of conservative ideology. An e-mail blast from the Democratic Party called the case a “wake-up call,” and urged recipients to “stand up for women’s rights” by electing Democrats to Congress. [...] The court based its decision not on a Constitutional principle but on an act of Congress, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. Acts of Congress can be overturned or changed if the right lawmakers are in place, and Hobby Lobby is a good reminder to voters that important policies are often not in the hands of nine justices, but in their own.CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin:
When it comes to the most fundamental issues before the court, the most important factor is not the legal arguments but the identity of the judges -- and the presidents who appointed them. Republicans vote one way, Democrats another. It's true in Congress, and it's true on the other side of First Street as well -- in the marble temple of the United States Supreme Court.The Los Angeles Times:
Beyond the harm it does to women's access to birth control, this ruling undoes the political consensus that led to the enactment of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Battle lines will soon be forming around whether the law should be amended or even repealed. That's a lot of damage from one misguided decision.The Denver Post:
In its Hobby Lobby decision Monday, the Supreme Court offered for-profit corporations an unprecedented — and unnecessary — ability to opt out of general legal mandates if their owners believe the rules violate their religious faith.[...] Now the door is open, as Ginsburg warns, for companies whose owners object to blood transfusions, antidepressants, medications derived from pigs, vaccinations and who knows what else to demand waivers, too. So much for the ability of their employees to access modern health care.The Baltimore Sun:
As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg observed in her dissent, there are likely to be "untoward effects" of this decision despite the court's efforts to "cabin its language to closely held corporations." And as she also pointed out, refusing Hobby Lobby's claim would not tell the owners that their religious views are flawed but would have protected Americans from having their rights deprived. Like the Citizens United ruling which treats corporations as people for the purpose of political campaign contributions, the decision diminishes individual rights to elevate those associated with a private company.The Washington Post:
WHEN BUSINESS owners enter the public marketplace, they should expect to follow laws with which they might disagree, on religious or other grounds. This is particularly true when they form corporations, to which the government offers unique benefits unavailable to individuals.The New York Times also gave its take on the other major decision that came down yesterday:
The Supreme Court weakened that principle Monday. Congress should revitalize it. [...]
The Constitution generally does not require religious exceptions to generally applicable laws. The ruling relied on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a statute that does not mention corporations and that lawmakers could easily narrow. They should not only guarantee contraception coverage but also repair the federal government’s ability to provide for wholly legitimate common goods such as public health and marketplace regulation.
The Supreme Court’s ruling on Monday excusing certain workers paid by public funds from having to contribute any fees to the unions that represent them was not the deathblow to public-sector unions that many feared it would be. But there was no mistaking the ominous antipathy toward collective bargaining and workers’ rights behind Justice Samuel Alito Jr.’s majority opinion, which was joined by the four conservative members of the court. [...] The effect of Monday’s ruling will be felt by home-care and child-care workers nationwide — a growing, mostly female work force that is vulnerable, unstable and hard to organize. Justice Alito presumed that since a majority of Illinois’ caregivers voted to unionize, many are “willingly paying union dues.” But as Justice Kagan pointed out, everyone has an economic incentive to take free rides. She wrote, “Does the majority think that public employees are immune from basic principles of economics?”
That the Abood ruling survived is no comfort to public-sector unions, which today represent nearly eight million workers. As long as the court’s conservative bloc is intact, their security and viability remain at risk.