Tag Archives: Supreme Court

Meadors, “American Public Religion in Frankfurter and Scalia Opinions”

This November, LFB Scholarly Publishing will release “American Public Religion in Frankfurter and Scalia Opinions” by David C. Meadors (Pastor at Broadus Memorial Baptist Church, Charlottesville, VA).  The publisher’s description follows:

Meadors demonstrates weaknesses in the originalist methodology for interpreting the religion clauses of the First Amendment. He concludes that even though courts have an important role to play in protecting religious liberty via the First Amendment this protection needs supplementation by robust advocacy among citizens and mediating institutions in the democratic process. His thesis is that Felix Frankfurter and Antonin Scalia found different forms of American public religion constitutional in their religion clause jurisprudences. Both applied originalist methodology in their religion clause opinions, but came to different conclusions. More specifically, Frankfurter focused primarily on the views of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison whereas Antonin Scalia has looked more broadly to the views and practices of John Adams, George Washington, and John Marshall in addition to Jefferson and Madison.

“Constitutional Contraction: Religion and the Roberts Court”

I’ve posted a new paper, Constitutional Contraction: Religion and the Roberts Court. Here’s the abstract:

This essay argues that the most salient feature to emerge in the first decade of the Roberts Court’s law and religion jurisprudence is the contraction of the constitutional law of religious freedom. It illustrates that contraction in three ways. 

First, contraction of judicial review. Only once has the Roberts Court exercised the power of judicial review to strike down federal, state, or local legislation, policies, or practices on the ground that they violate the Free Exercise or Establishment Clauses. In this constitutional context the Court has been nearly uniformly deferential to government laws and policies. That distinguishes it from its two predecessors—the Rehnquist and Burger Courts—both of which exercised judicial review more regularly. 

Second, contraction in the range of voting patterns. The votes of the Justices in law and religion cases overwhelmingly are either unanimous or split 5-4, with relatively few separate dissents or concurrences expressing distinctive approaches, and with the split correlating with partisan political or ideological divisions. The “liberal” and “conservative” wings vote in bloc, and frequently reason in bloc as well. This again contrasts with the voting patterns of prior Courts in religious freedom cases.

Third, contraction in coverage. As a substantive matter, the Court is narrowing the religion clauses. Every member of the Court seems now to accept that Employment Division v. Smith properly interpreted the Free Exercise Clause. Matters are more complicated for the Establishment Clause, where there is far greater division among the Justices. Nevertheless, the essay claims that the Court is moving in a variety of ways toward a narrow interpretation of the Establishment Clause as well.

Whether the Roberts Court’s contraction of the religion clauses, and its general preference for narrow readings of both, are positive developments will depend on one’s views about fundamental questions of constitutional interpretation. Yet there is a conceptual unity to the Court’s approach—logical and complementary, even if not inevitable: just as the Rehnquist Court narrowed the scope of constitutional protection for free exercise, so, too, is the Roberts Court narrowing the scope of constitutional prohibition under the Establishment Clause. In this corner of constitutional law, the Court is gradually withdrawing from the scene.

Comments are welcome!

Satanists Claim Hobby Lobby Exemption from Abortion Informed-Consent Laws (via Huffington Post)

The Huffington Post reports that The Satanic Temple believes that its religious rights are infringed when its members receive anti-abortion pamphlets and information in those states that require informed consent before proceeding with an abortion. The Satanists seem to believe that they can use the Hobby Lobby decision to press their claim. You can see some of the other beliefs of the Satanists at the link.

But the informed-consent laws that the Satanists object to are state laws. This is the document that the Huffington Post pastes onto its story purporting to evidence the claim. Although it does tend to be forgotten and get lost in the nonsense (even by some Supreme Court Justices who took part in the decision), it’s important to remember that Hobby Lobby was a decision under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. RFRA applies only against the federal government. Perhaps there are some federal abortion informed-consent laws that the Satanists object to as well (though the Huffington Post did not list any of those). At any rate, RFRA won’t be of much help to the Satanists if they are objecting to state informed-consent laws.

That’s of course all before getting to the test that RFRA actually sets out, even if RFRA applied (which it doesn’t). The Satanists would need to show that the mere reception of information about abortion intended to render their consent to an abortion informed imposed a substantial burden on their religious exercise. That seems rather different to me than the threats of financial penalty imposed by the contraceptives mandate on Hobby Lobby. The Satanists would also need to counter the government’s compelling interest in ensuring that a person’s consent was indeed informed before proceeding with an abortion, as well as satisfy the least restrictive means analysis. That would be a challenging standard to meet as well.

Obama Administration Announces Plans to Revise the Contraceptives Mandate

This CNN story reports that the White House has announced “revisions” to the contraceptives mandates that was the subject of both the Hobby Lobby and more particularly the Wheaton College litigation. But after reading the body of the story, it may be more precise to say that the White House has announced that it plans to revise the mandate. Here’s a quote from an Administration official: “In light of the Supreme Court order regarding Wheaton College,” said the official, “the Departments intend to augment their regulations to provide an alternative way for objecting nonprofit religious organizations to provide notification, while ensuring that enrollees in plans of such organizations receive separate coverage of contraceptive services without cost sharing.” Though the Wheaton College order was not a final disposition on the merits but only a preliminary injunction, the announcement suggests that the Administration believes that it may lose on the merits as well.

The story reports that the revised rule will be issued “within the month.”

My Review of Steve Smith’s Rise and Decline of American Religious Freedom

I’ve got a review of Steve’s book over at The University Bookman. A bit from the beginning:

In legal scholarship, as in any literature, style matters as much as content. The subjects authors explore, their manners and patterns of thought, the metaphors and idioms they select, the grace with which they address the audience and carry it along—in sum, the personal qualities that emerge in the telling of the tale—are remembered long after the details of the argument have faded. Over the duration of a scholarly life, a writer constructs a personality. And as the relationship of author and reader matures across the years, the publication of a new piece is the occasion to look not so much for argumentative roundhouse punches that could have been thrown anywhere by anybody, as for an old friend.

This is the way I come to the work of Steven D. Smith, the most penetrating and thoughtful scholar of religious freedom of our generation, and that rare author in American legal academia whom it is a joy to read. His new book, The Rise and Decline of American Religious Freedom, represents a distinctively and recognizably Smith-esque contribution. His authorial method has always been primarily diagnostic: he describes the existing legal and historical landscape, and in so doing brings a particular critical perspective that generally runs more or less against the current. Toward the conclusion of his work, Smith often gestures toward several possible resolutions to the problems he has discussed, but they are rarely more than that: soft speculations, almost afterthoughts, about a few pathways out of the forest. But the heart of a Steve Smith book is in the careful exposition of a problem. He has cultivated this method over the years with consistent, wry panache to great effect—whether the subject is the healthful absence of a single theory of the religion clauses of the First Amendment, or the contemporary obsession with the value of equality, or the unsustainable claims about the “reason” that inheres in constitutional law and scholarship. Always, Smith offers an alternative historical and doctrinal description. Always, he hints suggestively at contrarian possibilities and ends. Always, the leitmotivs are skepticism and decline.

New York Times Columnist: Hobby Lobby Majority is Like Boko Haram

Really, I mean it.

It’s tough to keep pace with the monumental, colossal stupidity these days about this case. It would be a full-time job to respond to all of the garbage, and who’s got the energy or inclination for that? This poor man aligns the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court majority with ISIS and Boko Haram. The unifying thread–both are anti-American:

The most horrific of the religion-inspired zealots may be Boko Haram in Nigeria. As is well known thanks to a feel-good and largely useless Twitter campaign, 250 girls were kidnapped by these gangsters for the crime of attending school. Boko Haram’s God tells them to sell the girls into slavery….

Violent Buddhist mobs (yes, it sounds oxymoronic) are responsible for a spate of recent attacks against Muslims in Myanmar and Sri Lanka, leaving more than 200 dead and close to 150,000 homeless. The clashes prompted the Dalai Lama to make an urgent appeal to end the bloodshed. “Buddha preaches love and compassion,” he said.

The problem is that people of faith often become fanatics of faith. Reason and force are useless against aspiring martyrs.

In the United States, God is on the currency. By brilliant design, though, he is not mentioned in the Constitution. The founders were explicit: This country would never formally align God with one political party, or allow someone to use religion to ignore civil laws. At least that was the intent. In this summer of the violent God, five justices on the Supreme Court seem to feel otherwise.

“The founders” certainly were not “explicit” in the Constitution about the points that Egan makes. “Explicit” means “clearly stated.” Where are the points Egan makes about the Constitution clearly stated? What “intent” does he refer to? There is lots of evidence that at least some of “the founders” actually would recognize that religion sometimes can provide grounds for viable and cognizable objections to civil laws. Nothing “explicit” in the Constitution absolutely prohibits such a recognition. And I daresay that “the founders” would rise up in unison to shout down the abject fool who lumped together organizations that kidnap, torture, and kill people with a court of law that, agree or disagree with its decision, does its best to interpret the law. There are many times when I disagree with the Supreme Court’s decisions as to fundamental questions. But I recognize that those are legal disagreements. Cannot Egan do the same? In what way did “five members of the Supreme Court” align themselves with a “violent God” by ruling as they did, rather than simply issue a decision with which Egan disagrees?

Where is there to go with such talk? What is there left to say?

Justice Sotomayor’s Puzzling Dissent in the Wheaton College Case

Sonia_Sotomayor_in_SCOTUS_robe

Justice Sonia Sotomayor

The battle over the ACA’s Contraception Mandate continues. Yesterday, the Supreme Court granted a temporary injunction to Wheaton College, a religious nonprofit that is challenging the mandate in federal court. As a religious nonprofit, Wheaton qualifies for a regulatory accommodation. It can avoid the mandate by completing a form stating that it opposes covering contraceptives for its employees and giving this form to its third-party plan administrator; the administrator must then provide contraceptive coverage to the employees at its own expense. Wheaton objects that completing the form and submitting it to the administrator would make it complicit in providing coverage for contraceptives, which it opposes on religious grounds. As a consequence, Wheaton argues, the accommodation itself violates RFRA.

Yesterday, by 6-3 vote, the Court ruled that the government may not enforce the mandate against Wheaton pending final disposition of Wheaton’s legal challenge. As a result, until the case is resolved, Wheaton need not complete the form or provide it to the plan administrator. The government, which obviously knows about Wheaton’s challenge, may arrange contraceptive coverage for Wheaton’s employees in the meantime. The Court expressly stated that its grant of a temporary injunction “should not be construed as an expression of the Court’s views on the merits” of Wheaton’s challenge.

Justice Sotomayor, joined by Justices Ginsburg and Kagan, dissented. Her dissent is puzzling. On the one hand, she makes a valid point about the standard for granting this sort of injunction. Traditionally, a high bar exists. The Court will grant an injunction only if the legal rights at issue seem “indisputably clear.” At this point, it’s hard to say that about Wheaton’s claim. There are arguments on both sides and, as Justice Sotomayor points out, the district court hasn’t yet determined the facts and adjudicated the case.

But Justice Sotomayor didn’t stop there, and the rest of her opinion is unfortunately problematic. Here are three quick examples:

  • Internal Inconsistency: Notwithstanding her complaint that the Court had preempted the trial judge’s adjudication of the merits of Wheaton’s claim, Justice Sotomayor presumes to decide the merits herself. “Wheaton has not stated a viable claim under RFRA,” she writes. That seems rather a prejudicial statement, especially as Wheaton’s case, or one very like it, will undoubtedly reach the Court soon. Besides, the Court expressly stated that it wasn’t ruling on the merits of Wheaton’s claim. One should note that, later in her dissent, Justice Sotomayor says only that “Wheaton’s claim is likely to fail.” So perhaps her first statement was  just  a little careless. But one expects more in a Supreme Court opinion.
  • Unfair Criticism: Justice Sotomayor sharply criticizes the Court for going back on its word earlier this week in Hobby Lobby. In Hobby Lobby, the Court indicated that the accommodation is a less restrictive means of promoting the government’s interest in women’s health than the mandate itself. If the accommodation is an acceptable alternative in Hobby Lobby, she asks, why not in this case? This criticism is unfair. The Hobby Lobby Court didn’t say the accommodation is the least restrictive means of promoting the government’s interest, only that it is a less restrictive means than the mandate itself. True, the Court’s language in Hobby Lobby was a little opaque. But it’s wrong to suggest the Court is being sneaky or indecisive.
  • Pot and Kettle: You’d hardly know it from reading Justice Sotomayor’s opinion, but last January she herself joined the Court in granting a similar injunction to another religious nonprofit challenging the mandate, the Little Sisters of the Poor. In a footnote in yesterday’s opinion, Justice Sotomayor tries to distinguish the January case, but not very convincingly. The Little Sisters’ third-party administrator wasn’t going to cover contraceptives anyway, she writes, so, unlike Wheaton’s employees, the Little Sisters’ employees had nothing to lose. But does anyone think Wheaton’s employees will lose contraceptive coverage during the course of this litigation? Both Wheaton’s third-party administrator and the government are aware of the situation and will undoubtedly make such coverage available.

As I say, Justice Sotomayor could simply have discussed the high standard for a temporary injunction and left it there; that would have made for a much stronger opinion. As it is, her dissent suggests a level of frustration that the Court’s ruling yesterday really doesn’t merit. Perhaps Justice Sotomayor knows something she’s not saying about how the Justices will likely decide the next challenge to the mandate that reaches them.

Podcast on Hobby Lobby

In our latest podcast, Mark and I discuss yesterday’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., the contraception mandate case. We summarize and explain the background, the holding, and the reasoning of the case. We also consider possible implications for future religious freedom challenges.

A Pretty Narrow Decision

That’s my first read on today’s opinion in the Hobby Lobby case: narrow and pretty much as expected. Indeed, Justice Alito’s opinion for the Court says as much (“our holding is very specific”). It’s a 5-4 decision; a 5-2 decision on one important point. Still, a win’s a win, and Hobby Lobby, its lawyers, and those who filed amicus briefs in its behalf have a right to be pleased–as do all those who value religious freedom.

Some first impressions:

  • The Court does not address Hobby Lobby’s First Amendment claims; Hobby Lobby wins on RFRA grounds. No surprise there.
  • In holding that a for-profit corporation can exercise a religion for RFRA purposes, the Court takes the route that Chief Justice Roberts suggested at oral argument. It expressly limits its holding to closely-held corporations like Hobby Lobby and declines to discuss whether large, publicly traded corporations also can exercise a religion for RFRA purposes. That, as lawyers say, is a question for another day. (Self-promotion alert: this is what I predicted). The vote was 5-2 here; two dissenters, Justices Breyer and Kagan, would not have reached the issue.
  • The Court makes clear its ruling does not mean it will necessarily rule the same way in other cases where employers seek relief under RFRA, for example, where employers object to covering immunizations. Different governmental interests could be involved in those cases, the Court says.
  • The Court goes out of its way to say that its holding would not allow employers to justify racial discrimination on religious grounds. It says nothing about other sorts of discrimination, however. Surely this is intentional. As everyone knows, a major lurking issue is whether RFRA allows employers to discriminate on the basis of sexuality, especially homosexuality. The Court obviously wishes to avoid any allusions to that issue–perhaps to keep Justice Kennedy on board. The dissent does raise the issue, though.
  • The qualifications in the Court’s opinion are obviously meant to answer the dissent’s “parade of horribles.” Seems a pretty good answer to me–but the dissenters are not impressed. The Court’s logic extends to publicly traded corporations, Justice Ginsburg writes, and there is little doubt, notwithstanding the Court’s reassurances,  that RFRA claims will “proliferate” in future. In particular, the dissent raises the issue of religiously-based objections to sexuality. As I say, the Court studiously avoids that issue.
  • In its least-restrictive means analysis, the Court notes that an accommodation of the sort the government has offered to certain religious non-profits would have achieved the government’s end in this case as well, and would have imposed less on Hobby Lobby’s religious exercise. That is, an alternative to the mandate is available. Is the Court hinting at what it thinks about the Little Sisters of the Poor case? I don’t think so; the Court went out of its way to reserve that issue. But the language here is a bit opaque and may cause trouble in future.
  • Not clear what the point of Justice Kennedy’s concurrence is, except to highlight that he sees this as a close case, to say nice things about the dissent, and to expound a little more about his view that religious liberty is about protecting people’s “dignity and … striving for a self-definition shaped by their religious precepts.”

We’ll have further analysis here at CLR Forum as we digest the opinion a little more. But, bottom line: a narrow decision and a win for religious liberty.

Movsesian on the Hobby Lobby Case

Cornerstone has published a short essay of mine on whether a corporation like Hobby Lobby qualifies as a person for purposes of RFRA. Relying on a comment from Chief Justice John Roberts at oral argument, I suggest that the Court may draw a distinction, for RFRA purposes, between large, publicly-held corporations and small, privately-held corporations like Hobby Lobby itself:

In truth, there is something very odd in the notion that a large, publicly-traded corporation with thousands of institutional shareholders around the world—Exxon-Mobil, for example—has religious scruples that guide its conduct. (Most Exxon-Mobil shareholders, I think, would be deeply surprised.) Large, publicly-traded corporations exist principally to make profits for the shareholders, who remain passive with respect to the corporation’s day-to-day operations. Religion is the farthest thing from their minds.

Moreover, if such corporations could exercise a religion, chaos could result. How would we determine when a corporation has a belief, Justice Sotomayor asked? Which of the thousands of shareholders would be entitled to raise their religious scruples? Would the majority of shareholders—51%—decide the matter for everyone else? What about the minority shareholders who object?

On the other hand, it isn’t strange to think that some for-profit corporations might exercise religion. As law professors Alan Meese and Nathan Oman argue in a recent essay in the Harvard Law Review, most American corporations are small, private firms with a only a handful of shareholders. In such corporations, the shareholders take great interest in day-to-day operations and may run their businesses with religious convictions in mind.

You can read my essay here.