There is nothing particularly conservative about Monday's (July 2) Supreme Court ruling excusing closely held corporations from a federal mandate to provide female employees with insurance coverage for certain forms of contraception.
Flying under the false colors of religious liberty, the five Catholics in the majority insisted they were acting to protect the constitutional rights of two closely held corporations owned and operated by Christian families.
But their ruling's practical import was to expand the majority's already inflated notion of corporate personhood, effectively extending employers' dominion over the personal lives and health care choices of female employees.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg spoke for wary employees everywhere when she warned, in a dissent joined in whole or in part by three other justices, that the majority's deference to the corporation's junk-science views "invites for-profit entities to seek religion-based exemptions from regulations they deem offensive to their faiths."
Ginsburg speculated that the majority had "entered a minefield" by inviting judges to second-guess other treatment conventions, asking not unreasonably whether the exemption enshrined in the Hobby Lobby case would "extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah's Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus), and vaccinations (Christian Scientists, among others)?"
The ruling was a victory for proprietors of the Hobby Lobby craft store chain and Conestoga Wood Specialties. Both companies are controlled by families who say they endeavor to run their businesses on religious principles and argued that the Affordable Care Act's requirement that they provide contraceptive coverage to employees was a violation of their religious belief that certain forms of contraception are tantamount to abortion.
But what about the companies' employees and their covered dependents who don't happen to share the owners' scientifically dubious views? Monday's majority ruling subordinates their right of access to the contraceptive coverage that millions of other similarly situated workers enjoy to the religious whims of their employers.
The majority's casual rejoinder that there are other ways of providing the mandated contraception coverage ignores the burden that the majority's deference to the religious objections of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood places on employees and taxpayers.
Justice Samuel Alito dismissed the government's assertion that Monday's ruling would encourage publicly held corporations to evade other public health and safety regulations on religious grounds, speculating that "numerous practical restraints would likely prevent that from occurring."
But like Justice Ginsburg, we take little comfort in such bland assurances, which may prove as naive as Justice Anthony Kennedy's confidence that government-mandated disclosure of campaign expenditures would temper the impact of unrestricted corporate political spending. (Today, four years after conservative justices opened the floodgates to such spending in their Citizens United case, its corrupting influence is manifest.)
Now, in yet another ruling that belittles the general public's stake in a crucial public health issue, the court's conservatives have again expanded the prerogatives of corporate employers at the expense of ordinary workers. The latter can only hope - or perhaps pray - that the collateral damages arising from that expansion remain limited.
- Detroit Free Press