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I wrote two posts at Cato on yesterday’s major Supreme Court decisions:

* Why Harris v. Quinn is a bigger deal than Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores (spoiler: constitutional vs. statutory interpretation).

* if you like what today’s Supreme Court conservatives just did, thank yesterday’s liberals, and vice versa. By the way, I suspect the abortion buffer-zone cases also fit this pattern. For several decades (down through the 1990s, maybe?) liberals would have generally been the ones relatively sensitive to the rights of street protesters, while conservatives were relatively sensitive to the case for a legitimate police-power role in protecting property owners/tenants from ongoing sidewalk occupation that might deprive them of peaceful enjoyment of their premises.

Earlier on Hobby Lobby here, etc., and on Harris v. Quinn here, etc. Welcome readers from SCOTUSBlog, Steve Stanek/Heartland, etc. And Virginia Postrel makes the case for making contraception over-the-counter, which would largely remove employers from the equation while widening access greatly.

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Hobby Lobby prevails

by Walter Olson on June 30, 2014

The Court has ruled that under RFRA, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Congress cannot require closely held corporations to provide contraception coverage as part of ObamaCare when there are readily available alternatives to serve the government’s objectives that would not tread on conscience rights. So said a five-Justice majority led by Justice Alito, including a whittle-it-down concurrence by Justice Kennedy emphasizing the narrowness of the ruling. Why narrow?

* “Closely held” is important — private corporations like Hobby Lobby and Conestoga are closer to surrogates for the owning family than are publicly traded corporations.

* The available alternatives are important — in many closely related situations it won’t be as easy to devise a workaround that serves the government’s policy objectives, and in those situations the claims of conscience may lose out.

* And the basis of the decision in RFRA, that is to say, statutory rather than constitutional law, is important. Congress is free to tinker with RFRA, Obamacare law, or both if public opinion is dissatisfied with the outcome. Although objectors may later raise First Amendment arguments, today’s decision in no way decides those issues.

Earlier coverage here. Cato’s brief is here, and Ilya Shapiro is out with a statement for Cato (“Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate had to [fail under RFRA] because it didn’t show – couldn’t show – that there’s no other way of achieving its goal without violating religious beliefs.”)

P.S. My colleague Julian Sanchez argues that the outcry against Hobby Lobby had almost nothing to do with whether any actual female employees will gain or lose access to contraception, and was instead was almost entirely a matter of cultural signal-sending.

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“…without mentioning the Religious Freedom Restoration Act?” You can if you’re Jeffrey Toobin at the New Yorker, busy stroking your readers’ presumed ideological prejudices. [Ann Althouse, and followup on an unsatisfactory correction]

P.S. From Prof. Michael McConnell, a much better article.

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My Cato colleague Ilya Shapiro thinks it went well for the religious objectors. More: Lyle Denniston/SCOTUSBlog, transcript, earlier.

Ilya Shapiro sorts out the issues for SCOTUSblog. Earlier here.

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Medical roundup

by Walter Olson on September 23, 2014

  • Down comes the pediatrician’s wall of baby pictures, another HIPAA casualty [Anemona Hartocollis/NY Times, resulting letters to the editor, earlier, NPR with somewhat different slant]
  • Had the Washington Post stayed on story of Maryland health exchange fiasco, it might have held power to account [my Free State Notes]
  • FDA rules requiring that certain drugs be kept out of hands of anyone but patients may inadvertently establish monopoly for some off-patent compounds [Derek Lowe via Alex Tabarrok]
  • Richard Epstein argues Hobby Lobby right result, wrong reasoning [new Cato Supreme Court Review, more]
  • Defensive medicine: so much easier to go ahead and order the ultrasound [White Coat]
  • Fate of melanoma-scanning device and the FDA [Alex Tabarrok via Elizabeth Nolan Brown] Can agency learn from European private certification? [more]
  • Seredipitous offshoot of study on rats helped premature infants; but would this have been quite as likely to appear in HuffPo if framed as “what we owe lab-animal research” rather than “what we owe federal research”? [Sam Stein; related, first volunteer given new trial Ebola vaccine, and a hat tip to lab-animal research on that too [Wellcome, U.K.]

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Last week Cato held its annual Constitution Day celebrating the publication of the new 2013-14 Cato Supreme Court Review, with articles from such contributors as Roger Pilon, David Bernstein, Eric Rassbach, Andrew Pincus, Richard Epstein, and P.J. O’Rourke. They discuss most of the big and a few of the not-so-big cases of the past term, including Hobby Lobby, Canning, Schuette, Bond, McCutcheon, and Harris v. Quinn. The panel above (also available as video and podcast download) looks forward to the upcoming October term; it’s moderated by the review’s editor, Ilya Shapiro, with panelists Michael Carvin, Tom Goldstein, and Richard Wolf. The review concludes with an essay on the same general subject by Miguel Estrada and Ashley Boizelle.

This year, the contents of the review are available for immediate download (although we also encourage buying hard copies, of course.) As I’ve said while singing its praises before, it’s distinguished from conventional law reviews not only by its Madisonian point of view, and by its extreme speediness (published only three or so months after the conclusion of the Court’s last term) but also by its unusual readability and style, pitched to intelligent readers whether or not they are specialists in the law.

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Commenter Eric Rasmusen at Prof. Bainbridge, via Maitland, quotes Sir Frederick Pollock, Principles of Contract, originally published in 1876:

…the Roman invention, adopted and largely developed in modern systems of law, of constituting the official character of the holders for the time being of the same office, or the common interest of the persons who for the time being are adventurers in the same undertaking, into an artificial person or ideal subject of legal capacities and duties.

To put it differently, the law’s handling of enterprises as people was old news in Roman times. More on the misguided attack on rights-bearing by business organizations: Josiah Neeley, Matt Yglesias (“5 mistakes liberals make about corporate personhood and Hobby Lobby”).

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Yale Law’s Stephen Carter lacks patience for the start-a-conversation-by-FOIAing-someone’s-emails approach to academic controversy:

Laycock’s approach to the constitutional issue [underlying Hobby Lobby and the Arizona version of RFRA] may be right or wrong, but it’s well within the mainstream conversation of legal scholarship. The late Ronald Dworkin, often tagged as the greatest defender of liberal theory in the legal academy, argued last year in his final book that Catholic adoption agencies with religious objections to adoption by same-sex couples should have a constitutional right to disobey laws requiring them to violate their convictions.

But even when a professor holds opinions off at the far margin, to target him or her for intimidation is an affront to the freedom that makes the academy worth cherishing.

The concluding-frenzy stage of the Supreme Court term is upon us; my colleague Ilya Shapiro handicaps the remaining big cases including Bond (treaty power), Hobby Lobby, Harris v. Quinn, SBA List, Canning and others.

Prof. Douglas Laycock of the University of Virginia is among the nation’s leading law-and-religion scholars. Many of his positions on church-state matters would normally be taken for quite liberal; for example, he argued the recent Supreme Court case of Town of Greece v. Galloway on behalf of those objecting to sectarian prayer of any sort before town council meetings. At the same time, as noted on an earlier occasion, Prof. Laycock happens to favor a broad application of religious-accommodation laws such as the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. This has led him to support proposals for state RFRAs with broad definitions, like the one recently vetoed in Arizona, and also to file an amicus brief on behalf of employer Hobby Lobby in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby.

Now comes the price to pay [Charlottesville Daily Progress]:

Laycock, who is married to UVa President Teresa A. Sullivan, is the subject of a Freedom of Information Act records request by two UVa student activists — Gregory Lewis and Stephanie Montenegro. In an open letter to the professor, Lewis and Montenegro said that while they respect Laycock’s right to academic freedom, they believe his writings supporting controversial religious freedom laws are holding back progressive causes such as access to contraceptives and gay marriage.

An outside group has been promoting the action [C-ville.com]:

“His work, whether he understands it or realizes it or not, is being used by folks who want to institute discrimination into law,” said Heather Cronk, co-director of Berkeley, California-based LGBT activist group GetEQUAL. …

Through the activist group Virginia Student Power Network, GetEQUAL found two UVA students willing to take up the cause of calling out Laycock: rising fourth-year Greg Lewis and now-alum Stephanie Montenegro. Last week, the pair sent an open letter to Laycock asking him to consider the “real-world consequences that [his] work is having.” They also submitted a Freedom of Information Act request seeking e-mails between Laycock and various right-wing and religious liberty groups. … Meanwhile, GetEQUAL has launched a national e-mail campaign calling out Laycock for his role in shoring up the legal arguments of those who support “religious bigotry.”

If the issue of FOIA-ing U.Va. professors rings a bell, it’s because it’s happened at least twice before. Around 2009 Greenpeace, the environmental activist group, FOIAed the university demanding correspondence and documents relating to former professor Patrick Michaels (now at Cato), who had espoused skeptical views on global warming. Then allies of former Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli filed a FOIA request seeking similar documents for Michael Mann, a prominent advocate of global warming theories. [C-ville.com, WaPo]

No one could doubt that Laycock’s views on religious accommodation are part of a set of intellectually derived convictions that run through decades of his work. (In addition to opposing such forms of church-state entanglement as officially sponsored prayer, he supports the right of gays to marry.) It’s simply a matter of trying to arm-twist a tenured, well-recognized scholar who takes a position that the Forces of Unanimity consider wrong.

Of course, the student activists deny that anything like that is on their minds:

Lewis said they’re not trying to smear Laycock, and they’re not trying to undermine academic freedom. They just want a dialogue, he said.

Prof. Bainbridge isn’t buying it:

[B.S.] You don’t start a dialogue with FOIA requests. ….It’s time to start fighting back.

It might also be time for legislators to clarify state open-records laws to determine under what circumstances they can be used to go after academics, and consider altering them, where appropriate, to provide for financial or other sanctions when they are misused.

Note also: conservative-leaning groups have launched a series of FOIA requests seeking records of professors at state universities in North Carolina, Virginia, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Texas. The left-leaning Institute for Southern Studies has a critical account here. (& welcome readers from Steve Miller, IGF; Paul Caron, TaxProf; Jonathan Adler, Volokh; Ramesh Ponnuru/NRO “Corner”; Prof. Bainbridge; Will Creeley/FIRE; Dahlia Lithwick, Slate; Megan McArdle, Bloomberg View)

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  • Mayor de Blasio settles firefighter bias suit on terms sympathetic to plaintiffs [City Journal: Dennis Saffran and Seth Barron]
  • One way to dodge some Culture War fights: roll meaning of “public accommodation” back to travel, lodgings, places of public amusement, etc. [Andrew Kloster, Heritage] As original/creative expression goes, florists and cake-bakers sometimes outdo NYT’s Greenhouse [Ann Althouse] From Dixie Chicks to Hobby Lobby, few escape hypocrisy when commerce collides with convictions [Barton Hinkle]
  • Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights investigating Florida’s popular Bright Futures college scholarship program [Orlando Sentinel]
  • Do EEOC mediators overstate risk of legal action to extract big settlements from employers? [Bloomberg BNA, Merrily Archer on survey] New Colorado expansion of employment liability bad news for large and small employers alike [Archer]
  • “Religious exemptions — a guide for the confused” [Eugene Volokh]
  • Washington Post columnist repeats myth that Lilly Ledbetter “did not know she was being paid less than male counterparts” until after statute of limitations had run; Hans Bader corrects [letter to editor]
  • If helping out local people was one reason your town decided to back public housing, you might have been played for suckers [AP on DoJ suit against Long Island town over local preference]
  • New Yorker legal correspondent Jeffrey Toobin as unreliable narrator, part 483 [Damon Root, Pejman Yousefzadeh re: attack on Justice Clarence Thomas]
  • Background of Halliburton case: Lerach used Milwaukee Archdiocese to pursue Dick Cheney grudge [Paul Barrett, Business Week] More/related: Alison Frankel, Stephen Bainbridge (rolling out professorial “big guns”), Chamber Institute for Legal Reform (paper, “What’s Wrong With Securities Class Action Lawsuits?”)] & update: new Chamber paper on extent of consumer losses;
  • Roger Pilon on NLRB v. Canning recess-appointments case [Cato]
  • States’ efforts to tax citizens of other states stretch Commerce Clause to breaking point [Steve Malanga]
  • Richard Epstein on his new book The Classical Liberal Constitution [Hoover, more; yet more on why Epstein considers himself a classical liberal rather than hard-core libertarian]
  • Corporate law and the Hobby Lobby case [Bainbridge]
  • Some state supreme courts including California’s interpret “impairment of contracts” language as constitutional bar to curbing even future accruals in public employee pension reform. A sound approach? [Sasha Volokh first, second, third, fourth, fifth posts, related Fed Soc white paper]

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The Cato Institute has submitted an amicus brief in the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga cases, which test the extent to which the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the First Amendment restrain the federal government from requiring employers to participate in employee benefit arrangements that violate the conscience of the individuals who own and run the company. More on the other amicus briefs from Rick Garnett at PrawfsBlawg and commenters. Prof. Bainbridge takes issue with a brief signed by a group of law professors on whether a corporate enterprise can be treated as an alter ego for its owners for purposes of imputing to it their rights (“reverse veil piercing”), and has some further thoughts on the legal principle — sometimes ideologically contested, but seldom in a consistent way — of corporate personhood. Related earlier here.

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