June 30, 2014

In another 5-4 decision, Hobby Lobby wins their right to gain limited corporate personhood for their family-owned (or closely held, as the court refers to it) corporation.

The scope of the ruling was narrowed to businesses which are owned by a small number of people with plenty of qualifiers included, such as one saying that the ruling does not apply to all mandated treatments such as transfusions or vaccinations.

The majority has two opinions -- one from Kennedy and one from Alito. The minority dissent was written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and joined by Justice Sotomayor. Justices Kagan and Breyer also wrote dissents.

More details to follow after I read the opinions and some analysis by legal folks.

UPDATE: Quoting krussell at SCOTUSblog on the personhood question, "the Court holds that corporations (including for-profit corporations) are "persons" for purposes of RFRA. The additional question was whether corporations can have a religious "belief" within the meaning of RFRA. On that question, the Court limits its holding to closely held corporations, leaving for another day whether larger, publicly traded corporations have religious beliefs."


After reading the majority opinion in Hobby Lobby, I'm stunned. If you thought the reasoning in Citizens United was bad, welcome to the decision opening the floodgates to the Church of the Almighty Dollar.

That word "narrow" in my original title? Strike that. Reverse it.

Arbitrary reasoning

In order to make this decision, the majority had to twist itself in knots. Here are some examples:

  • Corporations are persons, but maybe only if they're closely held. Maybe. Corporations are established to protect the people who own them, therefore they are 'persons' too.
  • Corporations are religious too, my friends. In disagreeing with Ginsburg's dissent, Alito writes that 'for-profit corporations do seek to perpetuate the religious values shared' just like churches do.
  • Lofty values belong to owners and employees alike Because for-profit corporations may be organized for any lawful purpose, they are not required to pursue profit at the expense of everything else, and therefore may impose their owners' religious beliefs onto their customers and employees. Alito uses the example of corporations which operate in foreign countries but impose stricter employee safety measures, or take pollution control measures beyond regulatory minimums, then says "If for-profit corporations may pursue such worthy objectives, there is no apparent reason why they may not further religious objectives as well." Of course, neither example is one that involves dictating personal life decisions upon their employees.
  • Denying science: It is enough that the Greens and the Hahns believe some contraception methods are actually abortion methods, regardless of science. Alito argues that because the Hahns and Greens believe IUDs and three other forms of covered contraception are "connected to the destruction of the embryo in a way that is sufficient to make it immoral for them to provide the coverage. This belief implicates a difficult and important question of religion and moral philosophy, namely, the circumstances under which it is wrong for a person to perform an act that is innocent in itself but that has the effect of enabling or facilitating the commission of an immoral act by another."
  • Contraception first, then vaccinations, transfusions, antidepressants and more! They are trying to kill the Affordable Care Act, Medicare, and Medicaid by the death of a thousand cuts. First it was contraception, but the majority left the door open for more challenges by carving out contraception and inviting other groups to challenge other treatments. Alito writes that "other coverage requirements, such as immunizations, may be supported by different interests (for example, the need to combat the spread of infectious diseases) and may involve different arguments about the least restrictive means of providing them." In other words, bring on the challenges, let's see what we can do.

Look for other "closely held small businesses" to bring some lawsuits to the Court for consideration. Koch Industries and Cargill Corporation are both defined as closely held companies, after all.

The Supreme Court majority rules for the Church of St. Dollar the Divine. Step right up and get your opinions -- tailor-made -- here.

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