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The Supreme Court Ruled One Way - Here's How You Fight BackThe US Supreme Court decided today that “closely held” corporations that object to contraceptives on religious grounds can deny this preventive coverage to female employees. There will be a great deal of constitutional banter on this opinion but, not being a constitutional scholar, I will make a few practical points.

First, when HHS wrote this popular regulation ensuring that women have access to preventive health care, the department looked to what most states require as a guide. North Carolina, along with a majority of states, mandate that health plans cover contraceptives. Our state has a reasonable exemption for religious employers, and HHS included a similar exemption in its regulations. I hasten to add that, despite this state law, few employers have argued that our state is impeding their religious freedoms.

Second, if you read the Supreme Court decision the majority opinion spends strikingly little time examining the possible impact on women. Instead, Justice Samuel Alito spends most of his space arguing that corporations are people and should enjoy the same religious rights and freedoms as individuals. In contrast, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg spends a great deal of time balancing the claims of the Hobby Lobby owners with the health care needs of female employees.

Third, this opinion opens the gate to whittle away many types of preventive health coverage mandates. Justice Alito says that each of these requirements will have to undergo its own analysis and that the current decision is narrowly tailored, but Hobby Lobby certainly invites a great deal of mischief. We will find out in the coming months and years just how deeply this court is willing to cut into protections for women and families.

Here are some initial links to analysis of the Hobby Lobby decision: ThinkProgress, the National Health Law Program, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and TalkingPointsMemo.

 

Supreme courtOn Monday the U.S. Supreme Court will wrap up its term with decisions expected in two remaining cases.

In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Inc., the justices will decide whether the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate unconstitutionally impinges upon the company’s religious freedom. (Read more about the case here.)

In Harris v. Quinn, the justices will decide whether home healthcare aids who do not want to join a union can be compelled nonetheless to pay for the union’s contract negotiation efforts (“fair share” fees).  Read more about the case here.

With those decisions, legal experts and pundits can complete the ritual of devining trends and alliances on the court. And this year, so far, what’s stood out is the unanimity with which the justices have acted.  Of the Court’s 70 decisions this term, 47 have been unanimous. 

According to Neal Katyal, an attorney who argued four cases before the Court this term, the last time this happened was 1940.

Katyal casts that consensus in lofty terms in this New York Times op-ed:

The justices’ ability to cross partisan divides and find common ground in their bottom-line judgment in roughly two-thirds of their cases — including the two decisions handed down Thursday, restricting the president’s ability to issue recess appointments during brief breaks in the Senate’s work, and striking down a Massachusetts ban on protests near abortion clinics — should remind us that even in this hyperpartisan age, there is a difference between law and politics.

Unanimity is important because it signals that the justices can rise above their differences and interpret the law without partisanship. The best illustration of this in the modern era is Brown v. Board of Education, in which the court unanimously declared racial segregation in education to be unconstitutional. When the justices forge common ground, it signals to the nation the deep-seated roots of what the court has said and contributes to stability in the fabric of the law.

But Garrett Epps, a former Washington Post reporter who teaches constitutional law at the University of Baltimore, characterizes the justices’ unanimity this term as somewhat superficial, reminding us that deep partisan divides still linger beneath the surface.

Agreement this term may be more pragmatic, he writes in this Atlantic piece:

The unanimity refers to results. Equally important in a Supreme Court case is the reasoning on an opinion. A Court’s explanation of its decision will create a new precedent and narrow, expand, or overrule old ones. And in reasoning, the Roberts Court is sharply divided.

On one side is the four-justice moderate-liberal bloc: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan. On the other is a hard-right gang of three—Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito. Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy are both very conservative, but unlike the other three, they don’t always insist on total triumph, and sometimes make common cause with the moderate liberals.

That’s what happened Thursday in two “unanimous” cases. Nine justices agreed on the result, but they split 5-4 on the reasoning. In both cases, the moderate side wrote the opinion of the Court because Roberts or Kennedy joined it. In both cases, four conservative justices wanted to radically change the law; in both cases, a five-justice majority opted for incremental change.

This morning’s lead editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer gets it right on the U.S. Supreme Court’s latest campaign finance decision in favor of big money:

“Voting 5-4 along ideological lines, the high court said in McCutcheon v. FEC that the current limit on the aggregate amount individuals can give to candidates violates the First Amendment. The decision lifts the $48,600 limit that an individual could contribute every two years to all federal candidates. It also removed the $74,600 limit on individual contributions to federal party committees. However, the court kept in place the limit on giving to one candidate, $2,600 per primary and general election.

The decision adds to the unfolding catastrophe of the court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling that allowed corporations and labor unions to give unlimited amounts to Political Action Committees and other groups that seek to influence elections and politicians. That decision spawned super PACs and ‘dark money’ groups in which corporations can spend directly to influence elections without having to disclose the source of the money. As a result, non-party, outside spending in 2012 tripled that of 2008….

The McCutcheon decision is especially shameful for the history behind the limits it ends and the evidence of how Citizens United has already warped the nation’s democratic process. The aggregate limits were imposed in response to the Watergate scandal that exposed anew the corrupting effect of campaign cash. That the court did not lift the limits on contributions to individual candidates seems to acknowledge the hazards of unlimited giving in a particular race. Why would that caution not also be applied to having wealthy contributors giving the maximum amount to an unlimited number of candidates?

Further, the court continued to spill more money into politics even as giving allowed by Citizens United is turning elections into auctions. Concentrations of wealth – whether held by corporations or the ever-soaring 1 percent – are distorting election issues with misleading and deceptive ads and subverting the ability of the popular will to make itself heard at the polls.”

Read the rest of the editorial by clicking here.

newsobserver.com/2014/04/02/3753198/mccutcheon-ruling-compounds-damage.html?sp=/99/108The McCutcheon decision is especially shameful for the history behind the limits it ends and the evidence of how Citizens United has already warped the nation’s democratic process. The aggregate limits were imposed in response to the Watergate scandal that exposed anew the corrupting effect of campaign cash. That the court did not lift the limits on contributions to individual candidates seems to acknowledge the hazards of unlimited giving in a particular race. Why would that caution not also be applied to having wealthy contributors giving the maximum amount to an unlimited number of candidates?Further, the court continued to spill more money into politics even as giving allowed by Citizens United is turning elections into auctions. Concentrations of wealth – whether held by corporations or the ever-soaring 1 percent – are distorting election issues with misleading and deceptive ads and subverting the ability of the popular will to make itself heard at the polls.

Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/04/02/3753198/mccutcheon-ruling-compounds-damage.html?sp=/99/108/#storylink=cpy

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For lunch today, some random morsels about happenings at the U.S. Supreme Court as the justices prepare to open the new term on Monday.

Life on the Roberts Court

Marcia Coyle, who writes about the Court for the National Law Journal, talks about the backstories underlying some landmark decisions reached under the reign of Chief Justice John Roberts, as detailed further in her book, “The Roberts Court.”

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Linkrot, Tumblr and Technology at the Court  

As Adam Liptak reports in this New York Times piece, long gone are the days when the justices cited only to printed text in decisions that appeared only in books. “Since 1996,” he writes, “justices have cited materials found on the Internet 555 times.”   Apparently though no one told them links had to be maintained, because now close to half of the web links in opinions lead to nowhere.

This can sometimes be amusing. A link in a 2011 Supreme Court opinion about violent video games by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. now leads to a mischievous error message.

“Aren’t you glad you didn’t cite to this Web page?” it asks. “If you had, like Justice Alito did, the original content would have long since disappeared and someone else might have come along and purchased the domain in order to make a comment about the transience of linked information in the Internet age.”

Tumblr.jpg.CROP.rectangle3-large  And as noted here in The Atlantic, the microblogging platform Tumblr makes its first appearance at the court  this year, nestled in a brief filed by Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig in the campaign finance case  McCutcheon  v. FEC. As Lessig explains on his own Tumblr page, the focus is on the origins of the word  “corruption”:

The basic argument of the brief is that the Framers of the Constitution used the word “corruption” in a different, more inclusive way, than we do today. The Tumblr captures 325 such uses collected from the framing context, and tags to help demonstrate this more inclusive meaning.

Scalia v. Ginsburg: The Opera                       

Scalia & Ginsburg     Just after last year’s term came to an end in June, Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia — who when not sparring over decisions are actually friends, travel together and share a love of opera — sat down for a rare preview of an  opera written for and about them.  Listen here to part of the opera, as reported by NPR.

 

 

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why courts matterIn its 5-4 decision today in Shelby County v. Holder, the U.S. Supreme Court essentially gutted the requirement that covered jurisdictions with a history of voting discrimination (including 40 counties in North Carolina) seek approval from the federal government before making any changes to their voting laws or procedures.

In his opinion, joined by Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito, Chief Justice John Roberts claimed that the Court was not invalidating the principle that preclearance can be required. Rather, he said, the Court was merely discarding the coverage formula used to determine which jurisdictions had the preclearance obligation:

Our decision in no way affects the permanent, nationwide ban on racial discrimination in voting found in [Section] 2. We issue no holding on [Section] 5 itself, only on the coverage formula. Congress may draft another formula based on current conditions.

The practical effect, though, is that preclearance is at least stalled until Congress enacts a new coverage formula — not likely to be a speedy process, if it occurs at all.

According to Adam Liptak at the New York Times, “The chances that the current Congress could reach agreement on where federal oversight is required are small, most analysts say.”