Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Be Careful What You Pray For

Sarah Ruden in Salon points out that if Hobby Lobby doesn’t have to be compelled by the government to pay for something they say violates their religious beliefs, why do people who object to war have to pay for the military?

The upshot of the ruling is that Hobby Lobby and other businesses with conservative religious owners do not need to pay for what the Affordable Care Act mandates as full coverage for family planning. The public interest in affordable and accessible healthcare is not compelling enough to override the private belief that contraceptive methods including (but apparently not limited to) the IUD and the morning-after pill are murder. Well, I’m a pacifist, and I say that warfare is murder, and I don’t want to pay for it; and in recent decades the public interest in my paying for it hardly looks compelling.

Quakers have a long history of refusing to pay taxes for the military, and many of them have gone to jail for their beliefs.  Is it too much of a leap to say that now there’s precedent for those of us who would not want our money to go to war to be able to choose not to pay for it?

I’ve made this argument before in a different context.  Being gay and being denied various benefits because of that, why should I pay all of the taxes I owe if I’m to be denied the things I’m paying for with them?  If I had a partner here in Florida (hope springs eternal) and I wanted him to have the spousal benefits of marriage such as property inheritance, he couldn’t have them.  Up until last June, thanks to the Supreme Court overturning DOMA, he would have been denied survivor’s benefits from Social Security.  But still, I don’t have the full and equal protection of the law that straight people have, so why should I pay full fare?  It’s like paying for a first class ticket but ending up in coach next to a screeching baby and an air-sick cat.

All SCOTUS rulings have unintended consequences, but this Court seems to be particularly short-sighted in their ruling, Justice Ginsburg’s dissent notwithstanding.  The harsh reality is that the courts have never sided with the view that an individual’s rights are more compelling than what they deem to be “the greater good.”  Unless, of course, you’re crafting for Jesus.

HT to Gray Lensman.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Didn’t See This Coming

Oh, gee, no one could have predicted that when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby and their right to corporate religion that it would have unforeseen consequences, now did they?

No, we’re not talking about a Christian college objecting to signing a paper.  We’re talking about something like this.

Lawyers for two Guantanamo Bay detainees have filed motions asking a U.S. court to block officials from preventing the inmates from taking part in communal prayers during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. The lawyers argue that – in light of the Supreme Court’s recent Hobby Lobby decision – the detainees’ rights are protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

The motions were filed this week with the Washington D.C. district court on behalf of Emad Hassan of Yemen and Ahmed Rabbani of Pakistan. U.K.-based human rights group Reprieve said both men asked for the intervention after military officials at the prison “prevented them from praying communally during Ramadan.”

[...]

“Hobby Lobby makes clear that all persons – human and corporate, citizen and foreigner, resident and alien – enjoy the special religious free exercise protections of the RFRA,” the lawyers argued in court papers. 

In its controversial Hobby Lobby decision, the Supreme Court ruled Monday that the contraception insurance coverage requirement in the Affordable Care Act – also known as Obamacare – violated the rights of “closely held for-profit corporations,” if a company’s owners object to birth control on religious grounds. The court, which decided the case 5-4, said that the mandate “substantially burdens” the corporation’s exercise of religion in violation of RFRA.

Did we miss that part of the ruling that says RFRA applies to Christians only?

Maybe the Supreme Court should have listened to this guy.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

A Bitter Pill

The consensus among the commetariat about yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling on the Hobby Lobby case seems to be a collective “Well, it could have been worse.”

Yes, the court could have decided that for-profit companies have the same religious rights as a person — much as they did in the Citizens United case, giving free speech rights to corporations — but instead narrowly found that closely-held companies — those that aren’t publicly traded, basically — could, on contraception only, get away with dictating to their employees what kind of birth control they could use.  But still telling us that it could have been worse isn’t much consolation, and the ramifications go far beyond just some Christians who don’t know much about IUD’s but know a hell of a lot about minding the way other people spend their money.

There is some good points made by people who know the law trade far better than I do about what this ruling means, including Eric Loomis at LGM and Kate McDonough at Salon.  From the latter:

To sum it up, five male justices ruled that thousands of female employees should rightfully be subjected to the whims of their employers. That women can be denied a benefit that they already pay for and is guaranteed by federal law. That contraception is not essential healthcare. That corporations can pray. That the corporate veil can be manipulated to suit the needs of the corporation. That bosses can cynically choose à la carte what laws they want to comply with and which laws they do not. Each specific finding opens a door to a new form of discrimination and unprecedented corporate power. If you think this ruling won’t affect you, you haven’t been paying attention. If you think these corporations are going to stop at birth control, you’re kidding yourself.

(By the way, it should be noted that not just women use birth control.  I may be gay, but I do know that men have a part to play in the reproductive process, and their lives can be impacted by making it harder for people to have access to contraception as well.  Also, the pill isn’t just for birth control.  There are a number of other medical reasons for taking it.  That tidbit of news seemed to escape the grasp of Justice Alito et al.)

The Republicans are rejoicing, not just because this is seen as a smackdown for Obamacare and a win for their Religious Reich handlers, but because now they can campaign on preserving the sanctity of corporate faith and family values.  Yeah, that will really win with the womenfolk vote.  Going into the elections of 2014 and 2016 embracing the morals framed in 19th century era patriarchy will win the day, I’m sure.  As Steve Benen notes,

Congratulations, Republicans, you’ve won your big case at the Supreme Court, and positioned yourself this election as the 21st century political party that supports restrictions on contraception access. The party saw a political landmine and decided to do a victory dance on it. We’ll see how this turns out for them.

 

Monday, June 30, 2014

Judgment Day – Updated

Today is the day that the Supreme Court will hand down two very important rulings.

The Hobby Lobby case will decide if for-profit companies can claim a religious exemption for health insurance coverage they say makes the Baby Jesus cry.

The challenge was brought by the Southern Baptist owners of Hobby Lobby, an arts and crafts chain, and the Mennonite owners of Conestoga Wood, a cabinet maker. Both sued for relief from a mandate under Obamacare that profit-making businesses include emergency contraceptives for female employees in their insurance plans at no extra cost. They said the requirement to cover contraceptives like Plan B and Ella violates their religious liberty.

The Court is also set to rule on whether or not public employee unions can basically survive.

The case, Harris v. Quinn, is about the constitutionality of “agency fees” charged by public sector unions to all workers in a unionized setting, even non-union members. These fees are essential to their operation.

The Hobby Lobby case isn’t so much about religious freedom as it is about control.  The healthcare law does not require the employers to pay for their workers’ birth control; it allows the employees to avail themselves of contraception at no extra cost.  But somehow the family that owns Hobby Lobby sees that as the road to the abortion clinic and objects to what their employees can do with their own insurance.

If the Court rule in favor of Hobby Lobby, it could set the stage for any company to claim a religious exemption as the reason for doing anything they want to their employees, including denying benefits to couples — same sex or otherwise — if they’re not in keeping with their personal religious beliefs.

In the case of the public unions, the Court will decide if people who benefit from the unions without having to belong to them should pay a fee for those benefits.  If they don’t, then the unions could go broke.  That’s not something this Court, with its apparent love for the corporate manifest destiny, seems to be too concerned about.

Stay tuned; I’ll try to update the rulings as they come in.

UPDATE: The Court narrowly held for Hobby Lobby in a 5-4 decision, saying that “closely-held” corporations can opt out of contraception coverage based on religious grounds.  Stand by for a bunch of corporations becoming “closely-held.”  All the Republican-appointed justices — who happen to be men — decided for Hobby Lobby; the four appointed by Democrats voted against it, with some powerful dissenting opinions.

In the public union case, the Court ruled that non-union employees can’t be forced to pay fees to the union.

PS: Any guesses on who might be retiring from the Court after this term?  Ginsburg?  Scalia (if only)?

Friday, June 27, 2014

But Not For Thee

The Supreme Court ruled yesterday that Massachusetts’ buffer zone law around abortion clinics violated the First Amendment.

“The buffer zones burden substantially more speech than necessary to achieve the Commonwealth’s asserted interests,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts in the decision, concluding that the law violates the First Amendment. “Petitioners wish to converse with their fellow citizens about an important subject on the public streets and sidewalks — sites that have hosted discussions about the issues of the day throughout history.”

Oddly enough, the Supremes don’t have a problem keeping their fellow citizens away from them.

The Supreme Court, meanwhile, maintains a tight perimeter: “No person shall engage in a demonstration within the Supreme Court building and grounds.”

Supreme Court buffer zone 06-27-14

I think it’s about time someone had a serious conversation with the Court about both irony and hypocrisy.

Short Takes

Droning on in Iraq: Political leaders are looking for someone to replace the current prime minister.

Syria: President Obama requests $500 million for rebels.

SCOTUS: The Court ruled against President Obama’s recess appointments and struck down abortion clinic buffer zones.

Arizona firefighter families sue over deaths.

End of the road for India’s iconic Ambassador automobile.

R.I.P. Howard Baker, 88, former Republican Senator from Tennessee.  Classy guy who couldn’t get nominated in the G.O.P. today.

The Tigers swept the Rangers 6-0 and extend their streak to seven wins.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Short Takes

Dam Close — ISIS is closing in on Haditha Dam, the second largest in Iraq.

Iran is said to be secretly supplying Iraq with weapons.

The Supreme Court ruled against Aereo TV service, saying it violated copyright.

Also, the Court unanimously ruled that cell phone searches by police must come with a warrant.

The N.F.L. has lifted the cap on payments to concussion victims.

Diane Sawyer is leaving the anchor desk at ABC.

The Tigers beat the Rangers 8-6.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Short Takes

President Obama — The U.S. will have all its forces out of Afghanistan by the end of 2016.

Ukraine — Rebels are sustaining big losses.

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that IQ tests alone are not proof of mental disability in death penatly cases.  The case originated in Florida.

More deaths in Nigeria are blamed on Islamic extremists.

Price tag to clear Detroit’s blighted buildings — $850 million.

The Tigers beat Oakland 6-5.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Just Another Political Entity

That’s the verdict of a poll done recently about the Supreme Court.

Wide majorities disagree with the recent 5-4 party-line rulings that have upended a century of campaign finance law and tilted the rules in favor of the extremely wealthy and major corporations. The landmark Citizens United ruling was opposed by a whopping 80-18 margin. The more recent McCutcheon decision, which lifted caps on total giving, was said by a 51 percent majority to be likely to create more corruption, while 8 percent suggested it would lead to less.

By a 60-36 spread, those surveyed said that Supreme Court justices were more likely to be carrying out a personal or political agenda than working to render a fair and impartial judgment, an opinion that cut across party lines. John Roberts swore before Congress during his confirmation hearings that he had great respect for precedent. But once confirmed as chief justice, he embarked on a remarkable run of conservative judicial activism that has favored the wealthy while undermining affirmative action and protection for voting rights.

The tipping point seems to be the ruling on Bush v. Gore which handed the election of 2000 to George W. Bush with the approval of the 5-4 court majority, and it’s only gotten more noticeable since then.  Further examples are the gutting of the Voting Rights Act last year and the Michigan affirmative action case, which said that the way to cure racism was to say that there really isn’t any racism anymore so why worry about it?

Of course the conservatives can point to rulings and claim there was a liberal bias on the court: Brown v. Board of Education, Roe v. Wade, school prayer, and Loving v. Virginia, thereby proving the point that it’s only judicial activism when it’s a ruling you don’t like.  But the Roberts court seems to be much more bolder about it.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Stalking Your Pray

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 yesterday that it’s not unconstitutional for a town meeting to begin with a prayer.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority, said that a town in upstate New York had not violated the Constitution by starting its public meetings with a prayer from a “chaplain of the month” who was almost always Christian and who sometimes used distinctly sectarian language. The prayers were ceremonial, Justice Kennedy wrote, and served to signal the solemnity of the occasion.

The ruling cleared the way for sectarian prayers before meetings of local governments around the nation with only the lightest judicial supervision.

[...]

Justice Elena Kagan said in dissent that the town’s practices could not be reconciled “with the First Amendment’s promise that every citizen, irrespective of her religion, owns an equal share in her government.”

She said the important difference between the 1983 case and the new one was that “town meetings involve participation by ordinary citizens.”

She did not propose banning prayer, Justice Kagan said, but only requiring officials to take steps to ensure “that opening prayers are inclusive of different faiths, rather than always identified with a single religion.”

Town officials in Greece, N.Y., near Rochester, said members of all faiths, and atheists, were welcome to give the opening prayer. In practice, however, almost all of the chaplains were Christian. Some prayers were explicitly sectarian, with references, for instance, to “the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.”

I don’t think anyone expected this particular court to rule any differently, and while it is annoying that yet again the majority of this court seems to be of the attitude that if it’s okay with the white Christian men it’s okay for the rest of us, it’s not the assault on the First Amendment that some are making it to be.

I think it’s a bit of a Pyrrhic victory for the god-botherers: the Court is basically saying that the opening prayer is ceremonial, like the Pledge of Allegiance, and has no impact whatsoever on the business before the town.  Folks pay polite attention to the chaplain while they’re trying to find the mute button on their cell phone and promptly forget anything the cleric said.

If I were one of those people that believed prayer is a holy moment of communion with the Supreme Being and deserving of sacred solemnity, I’d be pissed off that the Supreme Court thinks it’s little more than a brief addition to the agenda wedged in between the announcement of the meeting of the finance committee and the community bake sale.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Short Takes

In the Ukraine, the acting president gives up hope of controlling the eastern part of the country.

A freight train carrying crude oil derailed and caught fire in downtown Lynchburg, Virginia.

Elections were held in Iraq.

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin asked for an independent investigation into the botched execution.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia misquoted his own words in his dissent on the Clean Air Act ruling.

R.I.P. Bob Hoskins, 71, actor in Mona Lisa and Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

The Tigers beat the White Sox 5-1.

Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Out of Touch

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor didn’t mince words when she dissented from the 6-2 ruling upholding Michigan’s ban on affirmative action in college admissions.  She read it from the bench and there’s no doubt that she was directing her words at the Chief Justice.

In my colleagues’ view, examining the racial impact of legislation only perpetuates racial discrimination. This refusal to accept the stark reality that race matters is regrettable. The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race, and to apply the Constitution with eyes open to the unfortunate effects of centuries of racial discrimination. As members of the judiciary tasked with intervening to carry out the guarantee of equal protection, we ought not sit back and wish away, rather than confront, the racial inequality that exists in our society. It is this view that works harm, by perpetuating the facile notion that what makes race matter is acknowledging the simple truth that race does matter. [Emphasis added]

The Chief took note:

The dissent states that “[t]he way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race.” … But it is not “out of touch with reality” to conclude that racial preferences may themselves have the debilitating effect of reinforcing precisely that doubt, and—if so—that the preferences do more harm than good. To disagree with the dissent’s views on the costs and benefits of racial preferences is not to “wish away, rather than confront” racial inequality. People can disagree in good faith on this issue, but it similarly does more harm than good to question the openness and candor of those on either side of the debate.

A little touchy, are we?

There would be no need in this country for affirmative action if there hadn’t been 300 years of racial discrimination and majority-enforced segregation at nearly every level of government and education.  It wasn’t wiped out by two laws and court rulings fifty years ago; it is still rampant and insidious today.  Just because the white patriarchs who never felt the sting or stigma of racial discrimination think affirmative action isn’t necessary any more doesn’t make it so.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Up Denial River

George F. Will can be so darn cute sometimes.

Fox News contributor George Will on Sunday argued that the United States Supreme Court had inadvertently made President Barack Obama’s health care reform law unconstitutional when the justices ruled that it was not unconstitutional.

[...]

“On May 8, here in the second-most important court in the land — the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals — there will be an argument that this is objectively a revenue measure,” Will explained. “The Supreme Court said as much, a tax measure.”

“It did not originate in the House. And under the standards of origination, the whole thing is unconstitutional,” he added. “So this argument, again, is far from over.”

Of course by “cute” I mean pathetically laughable.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Don’t Want To Hear It

The case that launched the anti-gay discrimination bill in Arizona and several other states has been turned down for a hearing by the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court refused on Monday to be drawn into the spreading controversy over the right of business firms to refuse to serve gay and lesbian customers, turning aside the appeal of a New Mexico photography studio and its owners.  The Court made no comment as it denied review of Elane Photography v. Willock, involving a refusal to photograph a lesbian couple’s wedding-style ceremony.

That doesn’t mean that in the future another case might make it through to the Court, but for now, it’s a good thing to know that businesses that are open to the public don’t have the right to turn people away based on their sexual orientation.  At least in New Mexico.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Short Takes

Iraq veteran kills himself and three others in shooting at Fort Hood.

Supreme Court strikes down campaign donation limits.

U.N. reports the number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon is 1 million.

Aftershocks cause more evacuations in Chile.

Yahoo adds more security to thwart surveillance.

The Tigers beat K.C. 2-1 in extra innings.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Conscience Clauses

Last night over dinner — two slices of pizza at an outdoor table on Miami Beach waiting for my play reading (it wasn’t as fun as it sounds thanks to idling tour buses and loud traffic) — Bob asked me how I thought the Supreme Court would rule on the Hobby Lobby case.  I said I thought it would narrowly rule against the corporations, but who knows.

Apropos of that, here’s a cartoon via Digby that predicts what could implausibly happen if the Court rules that Hobby Lobby can dictate religious practices to its employees.

Mcfadden 03-30-14

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Ghosts of Rulings Past

Today is the day the United States Supreme Court will hear arguments as to whether or not private for-profit companies can claim a religious exemption from the Affordable Care Act because it would provide contraception to their employees, something the corporate owners don’t believe in.  Religious groups are already exempt from the rule, but Hobby Lobby, a crafts chain owned by very conservative religious people, want in on it too.  (Interestingly, the company was fine with the contraception coverage in their health insurance until Obamacare came along.  I wonder what it was that changed their minds.)

Given the make-up of the court and their previous rulings that have been nearly obsequious to corporate interests, a lot of watchers are understandably nervous that the justices could rule that corporations can have religious views.  That would open an entirely new chapter in corporate personhood, and the consequences — intended or otherwise — could fundamentally change the relationship people have with their employers and corporations have with their customers.  It could also make laws such as the one vetoed last month in Arizona that allowed companies to discriminate against certain customers possible.

As Sahil Kapur explains, it might not be a slam dunk for Hobby Lobby based on previous rulings by the Court written by one of its most conservative and Catholic justices: Antonin Scalia.

In 1990, Scalia wrote the majority opinion in Employment Division v. Smith, concluding that the First Amendment “does not require” the government to grant “religious exemptions” from generally applicable laws or civic obligations. The case was brought by two men in Oregon who sued the state for denying them unemployment benefits after they were fired from their jobs for ingesting peyote, which they said they did because of their Native American religious beliefs.

“[T]he right of free exercise does not relieve an individual of the obligation to comply with a valid and neutral law of general applicability,” Scalia wrote in the 6-3 majority decision, going on to aggressively argue that such exemptions could be a slippery slope to lawlessness and that “[a]ny society adopting such a system would be courting anarchy.”

“The rule respondents favor would open the prospect of constitutionally required religious exemptions from civic obligations of almost every conceivable kind,” he wrote, “ranging from compulsory military service, to the payment of taxes, to health and safety regulation such as manslaughter and child neglect laws, compulsory vaccination laws, drug laws, and traffic laws; to social welfare legislation such as minimum wage laws, child labor laws, animal cruelty laws, environmental protection laws, and laws providing for equality of opportunity for the races.”

That opinion could haunt the jurist if he seeks to invalidate the birth control rule.

“Scalia will have to reckon with his own concern in Smith about the lawlessness and chaos created by liberal exemptions to generally applicable law,” said Adam Winkler, a constitutional law professor at UCLA. “For him to uphold an exemption now is to invite more of the lawlessness that he warned about.”

The case comes down to what takes precedence in the laws in this country: religious beliefs or the Constitution.  Justice Scalia answered his own question:

“To permit this,” he wrote in Smith, quoting from an old court decision, “would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself.”

A ruling is expected by the end of June.