The narrow ruling could have broad implications for businesses and workers
Supporters call it a victory for religious freedom
Opponents say it allows bosses to restrict workers' health care decisions
The case will affect upcoming elections, analyst says
The Supreme Court’s decision Monday in favor of Hobby Lobby and furniture maker Conestoga Wood was “sweeping,” a “huge blow to the Obama administration,” and a “shot in the arm for the evangelical movement,” analysts said.
While the ruling is narrow – making clear that it applies only to certain companies and to a specific mandate involving contraception in the Affordable Care Act – it opens a Pandora’s box, raising all sorts of questions for American businesses and workers.
“This case is about the freedoms of all Americans – women and men – and it’s something that all Americans should celebrate today,” said Lori Windham, senior counsel with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
“What we saw today was five male justices essentially rule that discrimination against women is not discrimination at all,” Ilyse Hogue, President of NARAL Pro-Choice America, countered. “They said it’s OK for bosses to make personal decisions about health care which we pay for with our labor.”
The 5-4 ruling says the health care act cannot force a “closely held company” to cover certain types of contraceptives for its employees because the government could not show that the requirement was the “least burdensome” way to avoid interfering with religious convictions. The court emphasized that this decision does not mean that companies could refuse to cover other things, such as blood transfusions.
But in a dissenting opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that the court “has ventured into a minefield” and that religious protections should apply to organizations formed for a religious purpose.
“Justice Ginsburg is right – this is sweeping,” said Jonathan Turley, law professor at George Washington University. “People should not get lost in the reference to ‘closely held corporations.’ ” These types of businesses “are huge in this country and most of the businesses people relate with in their daily lives.”
The Internal Revenue Service says a “closely held corporation” is generally one in which the majority of stock is owned by no more than five people and “is not a personal service corporation.”
Will such businesses now be allowed to refuse employees access to medical marijuana? Will they be allowed to refuse to do business with people in same-sex marriages? All sorts of questions arise from this decision.
“What if they don’t believe in cancer treatments? What if they don’t believe in vaccines?” asked Emily Tisch Sussman of the Center for American Progress.
Hannah Smith of the Becket Fund responded that cancer treatments and vaccinations are not in danger. She called such arguments “scare tactics.”
Turley compared Monday’s decision to one years ago recognizing the individual right to bear arms. “We’re still working out the details of how far that goes. … That’s what’s going to happen here. It is a significant game changer.” He added that it’s part of a “theme” set by the Citizens United ruling that corporations are “people too.”
In the short term, the government will probably issue a regulation allowing the federal government to subsidize the contraceptives at issue, said CNN political analyst Gloria Borger. “So in terms of a real gap in medical coverage for these women, should they want it, I think what you are going to see is the government sort of picking up where Hobby Lobby would leave off.”
But, she said, the issue will surely affect the midterm elections and the next presidential campaign.