As noted here recently, there’s quite a logjam of cases involving challenges to the Affordable Care Act’s contraception coverage mandate, all of them seeking to expand the “conscience” exemptions provided for religious institutions. There’s been little unanimity among the lower courts in dealing with this litigation, which is the main reason why the Supreme Court is expected to decide today on whether to take up at least one major case, most likely the one involving the for-profit corporation Hobby Lobby.
As you may recall from Sarah Posner’s excellent piece at TAP on the case and its plaintiff back in July, Hobby Lobby is a closely held corporation run by very politically active conservative evangelicals claiming their company is for all practical purposes a “person” with respect to its “free exercise of religion” rights. The company won its appeal for an exemption to the contraception coverage mandate at the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, which made the case SCOTUS-bait.
At MSNBC today, Irin Carmon explains that the case’s implications reach beyond the contraception coverage mandate:
[I]f the Court does take up one of the birth control refusal cases and eventually rules that a corporation has the same religious liberty rights as a person, the longer-term impact on corporate regulations could be sweeping. That’s what Solicitor General Donald Verrilli warned in his request that the Court settle the question through the Hobby Lobby case. The Religious Freedom and Restoration Act, enacted to protect minority interests, would be “transform[ed] from a shield for individuals and religious institutions into a sword used to deny employees of for-profit commercial enterprises the benefits and protections of generally applicable laws.”
It’s too early to tell if the Court is looking for a landmark case in this area, but some sort of High Court guidance has become essential.