When the legal challenges against the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate were first filed, they seemed destined to fail. The law already exempts houses of worship and religious non-profits, and as the 3rd Circuit explained, courts have “long recognized the distinction between the owners of a corporation and the corporation itself.” Ruling that “a for-profit corporation can engage in religious exercise” would “eviscerate the fundamental principle that a corporation is a legally distinct entity from its owners.”
And yet, as Irin Carmon reports, conservatives on the high court found a way to side with Hobby Lobby anyway.
The Supreme Court has ruled that a closely-held company can be exempt from the contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act. […]The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the law at issue in the case, has never been applied to for-profit entities. The Court had to decide whether corporations even have religious exercise rights – making the beliefs of the employer synonymous with the entire company – and weigh that question against the potential harms to the employees.
It was a 5-4 decision, with the five Republican-appointed justices siding against the contraception policy and the four Democratic-appointed justices ruling in favor of it. Note, it’s not a short decision: there’s the majority ruling, a concurrence, are three separate dissents.
Of particular interest, the court seems to make a distinction between for-profit corporations and “closely held” for-profit corporations, which are businesses in which no more than five individuals own most of the corporation.
This post will be updated.
* First Update: The entirety of the Supreme Court’s ruling is online here (pdf).
* Second Update: If ”closely held” corporations are people with their own religious beliefs, does this mean these for-profit businesses can also claim religious exemptions in other areas? In other words, if you work for a ”closely held” corporation and your employer has moral objections to blood transfusions and/or vaccinations, are they out, too? According to Amy Howe’s analysis, the answer is no – this is a narrower ruling that applies only to the contraceptive mandate.
* Third Update: In terms of the practical implications, Tom Goldstein argues that it’s “extremely likely” that the Obama administration will use its regulatory power to extend contraception coverage to those who would lose it as a result of today’s court ruling. Something to keep an eye on – if taxpayers foot the bill, the court’s five conservatives would be satisfied.
* Fourth Update: If ”closely held” corporations can now ignore this law for religious reasons, what happens if a company also wants to ignore discrimination laws, citing their faith? The majority addressed this: “The principal dissent raises the possibility that discrimination in hiring, for example on the basis of race, might be cloaked as religious practice to escape legal sanction. Our decision today provides no such shield.” In other words, discriminating in hiring is still illegal; discriminating against the pill is fine. Why? Because five conservative justices say so.