drwex (drwex) wrote,

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And here come the 5-4s (SCOTUS, dear gods)

The Court finally issued the decisions everyone expected. Both are bad, though the Court seems to be trying to limit the damage it does. The headlines reflect this:

"Court strikes limited blow against Obamacare contraception mandate" (CNN). So Hobby Lobby wins, because the Justices figured they could shove this camel through the tent by using the exiting exemption in the law for religious entities. Doesn't really matter - this breaks massive new ground by pretending (for the first time in history) that publicly traded companies are entities with religious views and that working for such a company requires subscribing to that entity's religious views. Narrow as they try to draw this, it definitely places owners' religious beliefs on the same legal ground as the fundamental tenets of recognized organizations such as the Catholic Church. Along the way it allows religious beliefs to trump science. The ultimate culprit here is the RFRA, in what is set to become one of the biggest demonstrations of the Law of Unintended Consequences ever. Kennedy's concurrence goes into some detail to show that he was persuaded by the majority opinion that the government could simply have extended the mandate's exemption for explicitly religious entities.

As in other cases (notably campaign finance reform) the Court's conservative majority resorts to an "absence of evidence is evidence of absence" logic. Since HHS can't point to any cases yet in which a corporation's religious beliefs are hard to ascertain sincerely, there's obviously no problem doing so. And since there's no problem figuring out what a corporate "person"'s sincere religious beliefs are, it's OK for the owners to impose theirs.

Ginsburg's dissent is blistering from the get-go, pointing out that the majority opinion is "of startling breadth" because at the very minimum it implies that any corporation that can fathom up a religious objection to any law can simply claim the government should pay for it. In addition, she points out that the Court (for no good reason) weighs the free exercise rights of a for-profit corporation more heavily than all the burdens imposed on others, such as its employees. She notes that in the past the Court has ruled that accommodating the religious beliefs of one should not in turn impose substantial burden on others. But somehow they see fit to ignore that reasoning and precedent here.

Like I said at the start, this is a very large camel in the tent and it's going to stink things up for quite some time to come.

Supreme Court Ruling Allows Some Public Workers to Opt Out of Union Fees. Here, the majority may actually have done less damage; certainly they did not entirely gut unions as they could have done. The case, Harris v Quinn, tested whether workers could opt out of paying union dues if they disagreed with the union, while still taking advantage of union activities such as contract negotiation, benefit arrangements, etc.

What SCOTUS seems to be saying is that in this case there is a previously unrecognized class of workers who are employed by people outside the government but have their wages paid by the government - in this case home health-care workers. The workers get some benefit from the union but not direct benefits as their wages are set by the state rather than negotiated by the union. Therefore they don't pose the same "freeloader" risk and don't enjoy the same rights and benefits that full governmental (and thus fully unionized) workers enjoy.

The split is again along ideological lines, this time with Kagan writing the dissent. She spends her dissent lecturing the majority on the precedential Abood case, pointing out that the current case doesn't differ from that precedent in any substantive way. In order to make a different decision the majority had to make up conditions that Kagan et al argue do not exist. In particular, the dissent argues that the state controls key elements of the health care workers' jobs such as pay raises, health-care benefits, and retirement benefits. Those exist solely because the union negotiated for them and that negotiation benefits these individual health-care workers. In summary, the dissenters are arguing that the workers get the benefits and should therefore be required to pay in, since it's clear their payments are not being used for prohibited practices such as lobbying by the union.
Tags: politics, thinky stuff
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