Tuesday, November 12, 2013
The United States Supreme Court routinely rejects petitions for writs of certiorari, so today's denial in Pruitt v. Nova Health Systems is not especially noteworthy. Nevertheless, given the Oklahoma Supreme Court's decision in 2012, which we discussed here, holding that Oklahoma's abortion law requiring an ultrasound was unconstitutional because of Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992), does seem meaningful.
Its meaning is compounded by the Court's dismissal of the writ as improvidentally granted in Pruitt's companion case, Cline v. Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice, in which the Court certified a question to the Oklahoma Supreme Court regarding the interpretation of the abortion statute.
Thus, it seems as if the Court presently has no inclination to reconsider Casey.
Friday, November 8, 2013
In its opinions in excess of 150 pages in the consolidated cases of Korte v. Sebelius and Grote v. Sebelius, a divided panel of the Seventh Circuit has (again) entered the fray regarding the claim of secular for-profit corporations that rights of religious freedom have been infringed by the (PP)ACA's so-called contraception mandate. We've discussed the complicated landscape here, and specific cases such as the divided DC Circuit's opinion in Gilardi v. HHS, by the Sixth Circuit in Eden Foods v. Sebelius and Autocam Corp. v. Sebelius, by the divided Third Circuit in Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Secretary of HHS, and, of course, in the divided en banc opinion of the Tenth Circuit in Hobby Lobby, presently before the United States Supreme Court on a petition for writ of certiorari.
In this consolidated opinion in Korte and Grote, the majority of the Seventh Circuit panel - - - in an opinion authored by Judge Diane Sykes and joined by Judge Joel Flaum - - - reiterated its previous views and its previous divide - - - with Judge Ilana Diamond Rovner again dissenting - - - now that the "appeals have now been briefed and argued and are ready for decision."
These cases—two among many currently pending in courts around the country—raise important questions about whether business owners and their closely held corporations may assert a religious objection to the contraception mandate and whether forcing them to provide this coverage substan- tially burdens their religious-exercise rights. We hold that the plaintiffs—the business owners and their companies—may challenge the mandate. We further hold that compelling them to cover these services substantially burdens their religious- exercise rights. Under RFRA the government must justify the burden under the standard of strict scrutiny. So far it has not done so, and we doubt that it can. Because the RFRA claims are very likely to succeed and the balance of harms favors protect- ing the religious-liberty rights of the plaintiffs, we reverse and remand with instructions to enter preliminary injunctions barring enforcement of the mandate against them.
(emphasis in original).
Korte & Luite Johan Contractors, Inc., is general contractor in Illinois, employing about 90 full-time employees, 70 of whom belong to a union that sponsors their health-insurance plan, and 87% of the stock is owned by Cyril and Jane Korte, who describe themselves as devout Roman Catholics. Interestingly, as the opinion relates, in August 2012, the
Kortes discovered that their then-existing health plan covered sterilization and contraception—coverage that they did not realize they were carrying. Because providing this coverage conflicts with their religious convictions, they began to investigate alternative health-care plans with the intention of terminating their existing plan and substituting one that conforms to the requirements of their faith.
But, they now argue, the ACA's contraception mandate stands in their way. Also interestingly, although not in the court's opinion, the Korte company has been awarded the contract to renovate the Illinois Supreme Court building, in a contract for more than 7 million dollars.
The Grotes include six individual plaintiffs who own and manage Grote Industries, Inc., a manufacturer of vehicle safety systems headquartered in Indiana, having 1,148 full-time employees at various locations, including 464 in the United States, and providing a health-care plan that is self-insured.
The opinions and analysis are extensive, but they provide little that is different from their previous opinions or from other courts' opinions, with the exception of dissenting Judge Rovner's hypotheticals discussed below. The majority's analysis on the individual plaintiffs focuses on standing and there is no resort to the "pass through" test that some other courts have used. Regarding RFRA, the majority relies on the Dictionary Act's definition of "person," and concludes that covering corporations within RFRA is not a "poor fit," indeed,
A corporation is just a special form of organizational association. No one doubts that organizational associations can engage in religious practice. The government accepts that some corporations—religious nonprofits—have religious-exercise rights under both RFRA and the Free-Exercise Clause.
The majority uses a series of First Amendment Free Exercise Clause cases, including Sherbert v. Verner, the Seventh Day Adventist employee seeking workers' compensation benefits, and Braunfeld v. Brown, the "Jewish merchants" challenging a Sunday-closing law, to conclude that such" cases show that far from categorically excluding profit-seekers from the scope of the free-exercise right, the Supreme Court has considered their claims on the merits, granting exemptions in some and not others based on the compelling-interest test."
Dissenting, Judge Rovner contends that while her "esteemed colleagues have made the best case possible for the notion that the contraception mandate interferes with the plaintiffs’ free exercise rights," she believes that the majority's "holding and rationale represent an unprecedented and unwarranted re-conception of both what the free exercise of religion entails and what constitutes a substantial burden on that exercise," because the majority "extends a highly personal right to a secular corporation, a man-made legal fiction that has no conscience enabling belief or worship." She continues regarding the substantial burden - - - or what she sees as a lack therefof - - - and notes that the majority "permits the plaintiffs to invoke their free exercise rights offensively rather than defensively, in a way that circumscribes the rights Congress has given to employees, by permitting the corporate employers to rewrite the terms of the statutorily- mandated health plans they provide to their employees."
Judge Rovner's opinion is most provocative - - - and probably most useful for Constitutional Law Professors - - - in providing three hypotheticals worth considering. [Update: discussion of hypotheticals here].
Friday, November 1, 2013
In a divided opinion including two senior judges, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in Gilardi v. HHS entered the fray regarding corporate rights under RFRA and the First Amendment regarding the requirement that an employer include contraceptive coverage in its health care insurance. Recall that just last week, the Sixth Circuit denied the claim of Eden Foods, following the decision of another panel of the circuit in Autocam Corp. v. Sebelius, decided in September, that agreed with the divided panel of the Third Circuit's July opinion in Conestoga Wood Specialties that a for-profit secular corporation cannot assert a claim to religious freedom under RFRA, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. This is contrary to the holding of the divided en banc Tenth Circuit's June majority opinion in Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius presently before the United States Supreme Court on a petition for writ of certiorari filed by the Solicitor General on behalf of Sebelius.
In Gilardi, the divisions by the DC Circuit judges - - - Janice Rogers Brown, Harry Edwards, and A. Raymond Randolph - - - reflect the divisions expressed in the other opinions. Judge Brown's main opinion is joined in various parts by only one of the other two judges, both of whom wrote separate opinions. Judge Randolph's opinion is a few pages, while Judge Edwards' opinion, concurring in part and dissenting in part is longer than the majority opinion.
The case involves Francis and Philip Gilardi, adherents of Catholicism, who oppose contraception for women. They are owners of Freshway Foods and Freshway Logistics, closely-held corporations that employ approximately 400 employees. Important for the analysis, the corporations "have elected to be taxed under Subchapter S of the Internal Revenue Code." Judge Randolph's brief opinion has a good explication of the relevance of Subchapter S.
The judges, excepting Randolph, first decide that the corporations do not possess a right of religious freedom. The majority finds that RFRA's "person" language does not solve the issue, and turns to First Amendment doctrine. The court notes that perhaps the "constitutional arithmetic" of "Citizens United plus the Free Exercise Clause equal a corporate free exercise right" might "ultimately prevail, but "for now" there is "no basis for concluding a secular organization can exercise religion," thus agreeing with cases such as Eden Foods. In the brief concurring opinion, Judge Randolph states this issue need not have been addressed.
This "leaves the Gilardis," as the court phrases it, and finds that they suffer an injury "separate and distinct" from the corporation. The majority - - this time without the agreement of Judge Edwards - - - finds that the religious freedoms of the individual men are burdened under RFRA. It applies strict scrutiny, as required by RFRA, but interestingly quoting from Fisher, last Term's equal protection case involving racial classifications in affirmative action programs at the the University of Texas. The majority then rejects as compelling the government interests in safeguarding public health, protecting women's autonomy, or promoting gender equality, finding these interests both too broadly formulated and even if satisfactory, not being served by the least restrictive means. In short, the majority concludes, even without the contraceptive mandate, the "statutory scheme will not go to pieces."
Judge Edwards' lengthy opinion finds that while the Gilardis may be sincere, the legal claim that the mandate imposes a substantial burden on their individual rights of free exercise of religion because "their companies are required to provide health insurance that includes contraceptive services" is "specious." Judge Edwards argues that while the individuals may have Article II standing to pursue their claim, this does not mean that they have a valid one. Judge Edwards extensively rehearses the Supreme Court's free exercise doctrine, intertwined with RFRA, and discusses the burden on the Gilardis. In a paragraph that captures the disagreement over whether individuals are burdened by the acts of corporations, he argues:
Amici also contend that the difference between the Mandate and paying wages is akin to the difference between a person who opposes the death penalty being required to pay taxes that fund executions, and being required to “purchase the drugs for a lethal injection and personally deliver them to the facility where the execution will take place.” Br. of 28 Catholic Theologians and Ethicists at 19. The problem with this rather extraordinary example is that the Mandate does not require the Gilardis to have nearly this degree of personal involvement in providing contraceptives. The Mandate does not require the Gilardis to transfer funds from Freshway’s accounts directly to the manufacturers or retailers of contraception. Nor are the companies required to deliver or distribute contraception to employees. Under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. § 1132(d)(1), Freshway is a distinct legal entity from its self-insured group health plan. The plan is operated by a third-party administrator, and, pursuant to health privacy regulations, the Gilardis are actually prohibited from being informed whether individual employees purchase contraceptive products, or about any other information regarding employees’ health care decisions. See Br. of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, et al., at 29-30 (citing 45 C.F.R. § 164.508; 45 C.F.R. § 164.510). Moreover, the Gilardis are free to procure Mandate-compliant coverage for their employees through an entirely independent, third-party insurance carrier, rather than administering their own group health plan. Id. This is a far cry from personally purchasing contraceptives and delivering them to employees.
Further, Judge Edwards would find that even if there were a substantial burden, there are compelling governmental interests supporting the contraceptive mandate provisions, including "promoting public health, welfare, and gender equality." He would find the exemptions narrow and, analogizing to the Social Security tax upheld by the United States Supreme Court, the scheme cannot function if persons are allowed to opt-out because money is being spent in a manner that violates their religious beliefs.
Because the district court found as a matter of law that the Gilardis did not have a substantial likelihood of prevailing on the merits, it denied the prelimiary injunction. Having reversed that conclusion of law, the majority remands for a determination of the other considerations for a preliminary injunction.
But most certainly the Gilardis case - - - or this issue - - - will not simply end there. It may be determined by what the Court does in Hobby Lobby, even as Freshway Foods is distinguished by being a different type of corporation.
Thursday, October 31, 2013
A Fifth Circuit panel has entered its opinion staying the injunction pending a full consideration of the merits, concluding that there is "a substantial likelihood that the State will prevail in itsargument that Planned Parenthood failed to establish an undue burden on women seeking abortions or that the hospital-admitting-privileges requirement creates a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion." The panel also concluded that "the State has made a strong showing of likelihood of success on the merits" on its appeal on the partial injunction pertaining to medication abortions.
As to mandated hospital admitting provisions, the panel observed that the district judge's finding that the requirement failed a rational basis standard "overlooks substantial interests of the State in regulating the medical profession and the State’s interest in “‘protecting the integrity and ethics of the medical profession." Further, the panel held that the district judge's finding of an undue burden did not apply to "a large fraction" of the women seeking abortions in Texas.
Regarding the partial injunction on medical abortions, the Fifth Circuit panel found it is was overbroad, except in a single respect in which the injunction will remain in effect:
the district court’s injunction continues to apply pending appeal with respect to a mother who is 50 to 63 days from her last menstrual period if the physician who is to perform an abortion procedure on the mother has exercised appropriate medical judgment and determined that, due to a physical abnormality or preexisting condition of the mother, a surgical abortion is not a safe and medically sound option for her.
Otherwise, HB 2, the subject of the well-publicized filibuster by state senator Wendy Davis in now in effect.
Monday, October 28, 2013
In his opinion in Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas v. Abbott, Judge Lee Yeakel has enjoined portions of Texas HB 2, passed in July (despite a well-publicized filibuster by state senator Wendy Davis) and slated to become effective October 29, 2013.
The judge found unconstitutional the "admitting privileges provision" that provided:
A physician performing or inducing an abortion:
(1) must, on the date the abortion is performed or induced, have active admitting privileges at a hospital that:
(A) is located not further than 30 miles from the location at which the abortion is performed or induced; and
(B) provides obstetrical or gynecological health care services
He concluded that the provision placed a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion and failed the rational basis test. As to the substantial obstacle, the judge noted that hospital admitting privileges for physicians performing abortions can be difficult to obtain; for example a physician performing low-risk abortions may simply not have sufficient surgeries to qualify. Moreover, many physicians are not within the 30 mile limit. Regarding a rational relationship, the judge found that hospital emergency rooms admitting a patient and hospitals subsequently treating her do not disfavor a patient whose physician does not have admitting privileges.
Judge Yeakel did not declare unconstitutional HB 2's revision of physician prescription of abortion-inducing medications such as RU-486. HB 2 essentially mandates following the FDA protocol, a protocol that is not usually followed and about which there is substantial disagreement. Judge Yeakel, however, found that HB 2 did not impose an undue burden because the physician could perform a surgical abortion. An exception, however, must be added if the physician determines that the health or life of the woman is at stake.
Texas is reportedly already appealing the decision. It is not the first time that Judge Lee (Earl Leroy) Yeakel has rendered an opinion declaring portions of a Texas statute restricting abortion unconstitutional and been appealed. Last year in Planned Parenthood Ass'n of Hidalgo Cty. v. Seuhs, a panel of the Fifth Circuit reversed Judge Yeakel's preliminary injunction involving a Texas regulation that expanded the Texas Women's Health Program prohibition of funding for health care not merely to abortions, but to any organization affiliated with abortion.
October 28, 2013 in Abortion, Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Fourteenth Amendment, Medical Decisions, Opinion Analysis, Reproductive Rights, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
The continuing question of whether a for-profit secular corporation can assert a religious belief against contraception sufficient to exempt it from the ACA's provision requiring an employer to include contraceptive coverage in its health care insurance was again addressed by the Sixth Circuit in its opinion in Eden Foods v. Sebelius.
Interestingly, a footnote in the opinion cast doubt on whether Eden Foods and its founder and sole shareholder Michael Potter could past the requirement of having a sincerely held religious belief:
Potter’s “deeply held religious beliefs,” see Complaint ¶ 83, more resembled a laissez-faire, anti-government screed. Potter stated to Carmon [in an article in salon.com] “I’ve got more interest in good quality long underwear than I have in birth control pills.” Carmon then asked the Eden Foods chairman why he didn’t seem to care about birth control when he had taken the step to file a lawsuit over the contraceptive mandate. Potter responded, “Because I’m a man, number one[,] and it’s really none of my business what women do.” The article continued:
So, then, why bother suing? “Because I don’t care if the federal government is telling me to buy my employees Jack Daniel’s or birth control. What gives them the right to tell me that I have to do that? That’s my issue, that’s what I object to, and that’s the beginning and end of the story.” He added, “I’m not trying to get birth control out of Rite Aid or Wal-Mart, but don’t tell me I gotta pay for it.”
But the panel opinion rested on different grounds, following the decision of another panel of the circuit in Autocam Corp. v. Sebelius, decided in September, that agreed with the divided panel of the Third Circuit's July opinion in Conestoga Wood Specialties that a for-profit secular corporation cannot assert a claim to religious freedom under RFRA, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
This is contrary to the holding of the divided en banc Tenth Circuit's June majority opinion in Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius presently before the United States Supreme Court on a petition for writ of certiorari filed by the Solicitor General on behalf of Sebelius, the Secretary of Health and Human Services. In its response brief filed October 21, 2013, Hobby Lobby agrees that the Court should grant the writ and hear the case. With the split in the circuits, numerous district court cases in litigation, and both parties contending it is a matter of great public importance, odds are that the Court will grant certiorari for the current Term.
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Relying on the Tenth Circuit's decision in Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius, Senior Judge Wiley Daniel enjoined the enforcement of the ACA's preventative health mandate regarding certain contraceptive methods for employees in his opinion in Briscoe v. Sebelius.
As the judge states, Briscoe is an Evangelical Christian and owns Continuum Health Partnerships, Inc., Continuum Health Management, LLC, and Mountain States Health Properties, LLC. Briscoe’s secular, for-profit companies manage and operate senior care assisted living centers and skilled nursing facilities. Briscoe is the sole member and manager of Continuum Health Management, LLC and Mountain States Health Properties, LLC. Briscoe is also the lone shareholder of Continuum Health Partnerships, Inc.
Given the precedent of Hobby Lobby, the district judge spent little analysis on the underlying issues, but did analyze the requirements for a preliminary injunction. This included finding that the 200 persons employed by the plaintiff companies were much less than the "millions of others" persons exempted under other provisions.
Tuesday, August 27, 2013
The Feminism and Legal Theory Project at 30: A Workshop on Sex and Reproduction: From Privacy and Choice to Resilience and Opportunity?
EMORY UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LAW
November 15-16, 2013
more information here
Friday, November, 15th
3-4 pm RECEPTION IN MACMILLAN LAW LIBRARY (location TBA)
Celebrating the formal opening of the Catherine G. Roraback (pictured in watercolor left) Archive at Emory Law School .The workshop will be dedicated to Katie and her pioneering work on behalf of reproductive rights and justice.
Amy Kesselman (SUNY New Paltz), Vanessa King (Emory University School of Law)
4:30 - 6:30 pm History of Sex and Reproduction
Bleeding Across Time: First Principles of US Population Policy | Rickie Solinger
Women versus Connecticut: Insights from the Pre-Roe Abortion Battles | Amy Kesselman (SUNY New Paltz)
Sex, Drugs, Rock and Roe: Ammi Rogers and the Legal History of Anti-Abortion Norms | Lolita Buckner Inniss (Hamilton College, Cleveland Marshall College of Law)
6:30 - 8 pm DINNER
Saturday, November 16th
8:30 - 9:00 am CONTINENTAL BREAKFAST
9:00 - 11:30 am Discourses Surrounding Sex and Reproduction Issues: Law, Religion and Medicine
Medical, Scientific, and Public Health Evidence in Supreme Court Jurisprudence: Reimagining the Feminist Health Movement | Aziza Ahmed (Northeastern University School of Law)
Abortion Law and Medical Practices | Sheelagh McGuinness (School of Law, University of Birmingham) and Michael Thomson (School of Law, University of Leeds)
The Role of 'Nature' in Debates about Sex and Reproduction | Sean Coyle (School of Law, University of Birmingham)
Abortion Liberalization Policies around the World: Hidden Differences in the Diffusion Process | Elizabeth Heger Boyle (University of Minnesota), Minzee Kim (Ewha Women's University, South Korea), and Wesley Longhofer (Goizueta Business School, Emory University)
(University of Florida)
11:30 am - 12:30 pm LUNCH
12:30 - 2:45 pm Feminist Discourses: Sex, Reproduction and Choice
Infertility, Adoption, Alternative Reproduction, and Contemporary Legal Theory | April L. Cherry (Cleveland-Marshall School of Law)
Reproductive Rights and the Right to Reproduce: Is there a Place for the Non-Marital Mother? | Twila L. Perry (Rutgers University School of Law-Newark)
Choices Under the Shadow of Population Policy: Compuslory motherhood Challenged and Remade in Taiwan (1970s-2000s) | Chao-ju Chen (National Taiwan University)
Testing Sex: Non-invasive Prenatal Genetic Testing and Sex Selection | Rachel Rebouche (University of Florida, Levin College of Law)
3:00 - 5:15 pm Regulating Sex and Reproduction
Markets and Motives for Sex and Reproduction | Mary Ann Case (University of Chicago Law School)
A Fiduciary Theory of Health Entitlements | Margaux Hall (Columbia Law School)
Schrodinger's Child: Identity and Non-Identity in Reproductive Decision-Making | Jennifer S. Hendricks (University of Colorado Law School)
Procreative Pluralism | Kimberley Mutcherson (Rutgers Law School, Camden)
Tuesday, July 23, 2013
opinion in MKB Management, Inc. v. Burdick grants a preliminary injunction against North Dakota House Bill 1456 passed by the legislature and signed by the Governor, which would make it a criminal offense to perform an abortion if a “heartbeat” has been detected, thereby banning abortions beginning at approximately six weeks of pregnancy, with limited exceptions. As the plaintiffs, who run the only abortion clinic in North Dakota, argued, abortions before six weeks are exceedingly rare, in part because a woman rarely knows she is pregnant before that time.
A woman’s constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy before viability has consistently been upheld by the United States Supreme Court in the forty years since Roe v. Wade. See e.g., City of Akron v. Akron Ctr. for Reprod. Health, Inc., 462 U.S. 416, 420 (1983) (a woman has a constitutional right to terminate her pregnancy) (overruled on other grounds); Casey, 505 U.S. at 846 (a woman has a right to an abortion before viability without undue interference from the state); Stenberg, 530 U.S. at 921 (a woman has the right to choose an abortion before viability); Gonzales, 550 U.S. 124 (the state may not prevent “any woman from making the ultimate decision to terminate her pregnancy”).
Indeed, Judge Hovland stated:
It is crystal clear from United States Supreme Court precedent that viability, although not a fixed point, is the critical point.
(emphasis in original). He characterized the Defendants’ arguments as "necessarily rest[ing] on the premise that every Court of Appeals to strike a ban on pre-viability abortion care has misread United States Supreme Court precedent." He stated that "until" Roe v. Wade and Casey are "overturned by the United States Supreme Court, this Court is bound to follow that precedent under the rule of stare decisis."
After briefly assessing the traditional standards for a preliminary injunction, Judge Hovland enjoined North Dakota House Bill 1456 which was to become effective August 1.
Where and on what basis the "viability" line can be drawn remains uncertain in the continuing abortion debates, but six weeks is certainly too early.
July 23, 2013 in Abortion, Due Process (Substantive), Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Medical Decisions, Opinion Analysis, Privacy, Reproductive Rights | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, July 3, 2013
Kansas' new abortion law that took effect July 1 - - - running 70 pages and known as Kansas HB 2253 - - - has already been the subject of a constitutional challenge. HB 2253 seeks to restrict abortion and other reproductive services in numerous ways in accord with the legislative finding that "the life of each human being begins at fertilization." The Complaint filed by the local Planned Parenthood organization, Comprehensive Health of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid- Missouri, Inc. (CHPPKM) specifically challenges two provisions of the law on First Amendment grounds.
Planned Parenthood v. Rounds. Even though there was some "uncertainty" as to the reliability of the studies purporting to show a link between abortion and suicide ideation - - - including the very meaning of the word "risk" - - - the majority in Rounds found that the provision survived by giving great deference to South Dakota. One question will be whether the Tenth Circuit will be as deferential as the majority in its sister circuit or be as rigorous as the dissenting judges in Rounds.
Second, the complaint challenges the provision that compels CHPPKM "to place on the homepage of its public website both a hyperlink to a government website that contains the government’s viewpoint on abortion, and a scripted message of endorsement of the content on the government’s website, even where CHPPKM disagrees with the message." In light of last month's decision by the United States Supreme Court in United States Agency for International Development v. Alliance for Open Society International, Inc., - - - the prostitution pledge case - - - invalidating a requirement that organizations that received direct funding could not be compelled to espouse views that were not their own, this claim seems on firm First Amendment footing. The distinction is a factual one - - - the hyperlink - - - although interestingly CHPPKM contends in its complaint this further complicates the matter because it cannot be expected to constantly monitor the government site. Certainly, however, much of the language and reasoning in Chief Justice Roberts' majority opinion for the Court solidifies compelled speech doctrine. And interestingly, compelled speech doctrine is being argued by anti-abortion organizations to challenge laws requiring "pregnancy crisis centers" to disclose the fact that they are not medical facilities. ( For example, a district judge held NYC's Local Law 17 unconstitutional in 2011; an opinion from the Second Circuit has been anticipated since oral argument over a year ago). UPDATE: The Fourth Circuit's en banc opinion July 3 on a Baltimore ordinance.
A popular discussion of the controversy, including some of my own thoughts, is available on "KC Currents" broadcast by KCUR, a local NPR station.
Friday, June 28, 2013
Tenth Circuit Recognizes For-Profit Corporations as Having Religious Freedom and Free Exercise Rights
In the contentious and closely-watched case of Hobby Lobby, Inc. v. Sebelius, the Tenth Circuit has rendered its opinion concluding that a for-profit corporation has free exercise of religion rights under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the First Amendment.
Hobby Lobby challenges the constitutionality of the so-called "contraception mandate" under the Affordable Care Act that require health insurance plans to provide contraception coverage to employees. We've previously discussed the issue and the circuit split here.
The federal district judge had rejected Hobby Lobby's claim, noting that it was a for-profit completely secular company - - - it is a corporation operating 514 arts and crafts stores in 41 states. The federal district judge also denied the injunction as to the for-profit corporation Mardel, a Christian supply and bookstore chain, and to the family owning both the corporations through a management trust. Hobby Lobby sought extraordinary relief from the United States Supreme Court after a Tenth Circuit panel declined to issue a stay; Justice Sotomayor in her role as Tenth Circuit Justice then rejected the claim, ruling that the privately held corporations did not "satisfy the demanding standard for the extraordinary relief they seek."
The Tenth Circuit granted the request for initial en banc review - - - thus, there is no Tenth Circuit panel opinion - - - and issued a lengthy set of opinions from the eight judges, one judge being recused. The majority opinion on pages 8-9 details the rationales of the individual judges. But the essential division is 5-3 over the issue of whether a corporation, even a for-profit secular corporation, has a right to free exercise of religion under RFRA and the First Amendment. The majority concluded there was such a right and that the corporations demonstrated a likelihood of success for prevailing on the merits.
Judge Timothy Tymkovich's more than 65 page opinion for the majority concluded that
Hobby Lobby and Mardel are entitled to bring claims under RFRA, have established a likelihood of success that their rights under this statute are substantially burdened by the contraceptive-coverage requirement, and have established an irreparable harm. But we remand the case to the district court for further proceedings on two of the remaining factors governing the grant or denial of a preliminary injunction.
Only a plurality of judges would have resolved the other two preliminary injunction factors - - - balance of equities and public interest - - - in Hobby Lobby and Mardel’s favor, thus the remand.
The majority, however, held
as a matter of statutory interpretation that Congress did not exclude for-profit corporations from RFRA’s protections. Such corporations can be “persons” exercising religion for purposes of the statute. Second, as a matter of constitutional law, Free Exercise rights may extend to some for-profit organizations.
(emphasis added). The opinion often conflates RFRA (which recall, is only applicable as to federal laws) and First Amendment. However, in specifically considering First Amendment doctrine, the majority's argument derived from two strands. First, it noted that individuals may incorporate for religious purposes and keep their Free Exercise rights - - - such as churches, citing Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. City of Hialeah, 508 U.S. 520, 525 (1993) (holding that a “not-for-profit corporation organized under Florida law” prevailed on its Free Exercise claim). Second, it then noted that "unincorporated individuals may pursue profit while keeping their Free Exercise rights," citing United States v. Lee, 455 U.S. 252 (1982) (considering a Free Exercise claim of an Amish employer); Braunfeld v. Brown, 366 U.S. 599 (1961) (plurality opinion) (considering a Free Exercise claim by Jewish merchants operating for-profit).
It then characterized the government's argument as being that these "Free Exercise rights somehow disappear" when "individuals incorporate and fail to satisfy Internal Revenue Code § 501(c)(3)." The majority found this distinction to be one that cannot be supported by First Amendment doctrine. It did, however, implicitly limit the facts under which for-profit corporations could be found to have free exercise rights:
The government nonetheless raises the specter of future cases in which, for example, a large publicly traded corporation tries to assert religious rights under RFRA. That would certainly seem to raise difficult questions of how to determine the corporation’s sincerity of belief. But that is not an issue here. Hobby Lobby and Mardel are not publicly traded corporations; they are closely held family businesses with an explicit Christian mission as defined in their governing principles. The Greens, moreover, have associated through Hobby Lobby and Mardel with the intent to provide goods and services while adhering to Christian standards as they see them, and they have made business decisions according to those standards. And the Greens are unanimous in their belief that the contraceptive-coverage requirement violates the religious values they attempt to follow in operating Hobby Lobby and Mardel. It is hard to compare them to a large, publicly traded corporation, and the difference seems obvious.
Thus, the majority stated that it did not share any concerns that its holding would prevent courts from distinguishing businesses that are not eligible for RFRA’s - - - and presumably the First Amendment's - - - protections.
While the analysis of substantial burden that follows is important, it is the holding that a secular for-profit corporation has a sincerely held religious belief that entitles it to assert a free exercise claim is the centerpiece of the controversy.
Indeed, Chief Judge Briscoe, joined by Judge Lucero, call the majority's opinion on this point
nothing short of a radical revision of First Amendment law, as well as the law of corporations. But whatever one might think of the majority’s views, the fact remains that they are wholly unsupported by the language of the Free Exercise Clause or the Supreme Court’s free exercise jurisprudence, and are thus, at best, “considerations for the legislative choice.”
The ability of for-profit corporations to have Free Exercise rights under the First Amendment - - - along with their Free Speech rights as articulated in the still-controversial Citizens United v. FEC, decided in 2010 and liberally cited in Hobby Lobby - - - is highly contested. This may certainly be going (back) to the United States Supreme Court.
June 28, 2013 in Campaign Finance, Congressional Authority, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Privacy, Religion, Reproductive Rights, Sexuality | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, June 24, 2013
The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari in McCullen v. Coakley in which the First Circuit rejected a First Amendment challenge to a Massachusetts statute creating a fixed thirty-five-foot buffer zone around the entrances, exits, and driveways of abortion clinics.
The First Circuit rejected the argument that the First Amendment doctrine governing buffer zones had shifted after the Supreme Court's decisions in Sorrell v. IMS Health Inc. (2011); Snyder v. Phelps (2011); and Citizens United v. FEC (2010).
This grant of certiorari could signal a more robust recognition of First Amendment challenges to buffer zones.
Thursday, March 7, 2013
In the latest chapter of McCormack v. Hiedeman, District Judge Lynn Winmill issued a 42 page opinion (Memorandum Decision and Order) yesterday holding various provisions in Idaho's abortion law unconstitutional, including the 20 week pregnancy ban unconstitutional.
Recall that the Ninth Circuit last year found that Idaho's prosecution of McCormack for "self-abortion" constituted an undue burden and was unconstitutional. McCormack, who purchased abortion "medications" over the internet, was the subject of an excellent indepth article which we discussed here. At that time, it seemed as if the case was concluded.
However, Judge Winmill rejected the prosecutor's argument that the case was moot, noting that a party "cannot conjure up mootness by ceasing the challenged conduct only for practical or strategic reasons - - - such as avoiding litigation." The judge further held that the prosecutor's promise not to prosecute would not bind his successors and that his subsequent offer of transactional immunity to McCormack was not timely or binding. Further, the judge noted that pregnancy is "capable of repetition yet evading review."
Judge Winmill also held that the physician in the case had standing, including to assert his patients' constitutional claims.
On the merits, Judge Winmill held that the self-abortion provision is a substantial obstacle and therefore unconstitutional, adopting the Ninth Circuit's reasoning.
Judge Winmill also held unconstitutional the provisions imposing criminal liability on abortion providers who perform first trimester abortions outside a hospital or a properly staffed and equipped office or a clinic and requires that “physicians have made satisfactory arrangements” for emergency hospital care. The judge accepted the physician's argument that the terms “properly” and “satisfactory” are unconstitutionally vague therefore placing an undue burden on women seeking first trimester abortions. There is some confusion in the judge's reliance on Gonzales v. Carhart in this passage, but the judge finds that the Idaho statute is not sufficiently specific.
Additionally, the judge found unconstitutional the Idaho provisions banning abortions at twenty weeks in PUCPA, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. He reasoned that PUCPA does not contain mention the health or safety of the pregnant woman, that its only purpose was to limit the available options for the woman, and that the legislature cannot place viability at a set point.
Given this opinion, it is likely that McCormack v. Heidman will be returning to the Ninth Circuit.
Thursday, February 7, 2013
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released a statement today saying that the newly proposed HHS regulations on the contraception-coverage provision of the Affordable Care Act don't do enough to protect religious liberties. According to the statement, the Conference has three problems:
- the narrow understanding of a religious ministry;
- compelling church ministries to fund and facilitate services such as contraceptives, including abortion-inducing drugs, and sterilization that violate Catholic teaching; and
- disregard of the conscience rights of for-profit business owners.
These are the same objections the Conference lodged earlier, in March 2012, well before HHS proposed the new regs. In short, the Conference says that the HHS proposal doesn't do enough to address its original objections.
The Conference says that the proposed rules maintain an "inaccurate distinction among religious ministries" by not considering Catholic hospitals, universities, and charities as part of the Catholic ministry. In particular, the Conference objects to the "accommodation" that these institutions receive from the contraception coverage requirement--an accommodation that provides their enrollees separate contraceptive coverage, with no co-pays, and at no (direct) cost to the religious organization. The Conference seems to object both to the idea that these institutions get an "accommodation" (as opposed to a full free pass on the contraception requirement) and to the possibility that the institutions might end up indirectly paying the bill for contraception coverage even with the accommodation. As to point three, the Conference balked at the lack of exception for private business owners who, for religious reasons, object to contraception.
The statement says that the Conference will submit its concerns in the notice-and-comment period for the proposed rules.
Thursday, January 10, 2013
In a guest post over at the American Constitution Society blog, Professor Leslie Griffin (pictured) discusses the numerous decisions in challenges to the ACA's mandate of reproductive coverage on the basis of the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause.
Griffin argues that in these cases, such as Hobby Lobby, the accomodation of religion could violate the Establishment Clause. Moreover, she argues that neither selling crafts at a profit nor providing employees with benefits should constitute an "exercise" of religion.
The post helpfully provides a great overview and links to all the cases, useful for anyone working in this area.
Worth a read!
Friday, January 4, 2013
Monday, January 14, 2013 6:30 pm-8:00 pm
2013 marks the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, establishing the constitutionally-protected right to abortion. This program will discuss the evolution of the right to abortion in the courts, public opinion, and political discourse since then and will address the current status of reproductive rights in the United States, including its role in the 2012 presidential election.
Moderator: PRISCILLA SMITH, Senior Fellow at the Information Society Project at the Yale Law School
LOUISE MELLING, Director, ACLU Center for Liberty
RUTHANN ROBSON, Professor of Law & University Distinguished Professor, CUNY School of Law
KATHLEEN MORRELL, MD, Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health
JESSICA GONZALEZ-ROJAS, Executive Director, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health
BEBE ANDERSON, Director, U.S. Legal Program, Center for Reproductive Rights
Sponsors: Sex and Law Committee, Pamela Zimmerman, Chair
More information here.
Wednesday, December 26, 2012
In her role as Circuit Justice for the Tenth Circuit, Justice Sonia Sotomayor today rejected an application for an injunction pending appellate review from Hobby Lobby. In her brief order in Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. v. Sebelius, Sotomayor ruled that the privately held corporations did not "satisfy the demanding standard for the extraordinary relief they seek."
Recall that in November, an Oklahoma district judge stressed that Hobby Lobby, an arts and crafts store chain operating in 41 states, as well as its co-plaintiff, the Mardel corporation, were secular for-private corporations that did not possess free exercise of religion rights under the First Amendment. Judge Joe Heaton therefore denied the motion for a preliminary injunction regarding their First Amendment objections to complying with contraceptive requirements under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Sotomayor notes that the Tenth Circuit refused to issue a stay pending appeal and she saw no reason to depart from that conclusion: "Even without an injunction pending appeal, the applicants may continue their challenge to the regulations in the lower courts. Following a final judgment, they may, if necessary, file a petition for a writ of certiorari in this Court."
December 26, 2012 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Family, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Reproductive Rights, Sexuality | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, December 11, 2012
Is a specialty license plate government speech permissible under the First Amendment? In a 21 page opinion and order in ACLU of North Carolina v. Conti, Senior United States District Judge James Fox held that North Carolina's "choose life" specialty license plate scheme was not protected government speech and therefore enjoined the issuance of such license plates.
Judge Fox described the North Carolina scheme as unique in comparison to other state statutory schemes and likewise noted that the legislature rejected offering other specialty plates that would have expressed an opposing view, such as "respect choice."
The central issue in the case, however, was whether the "choose life" specialty license plate could be described as "government speech" and thus protected under First Amendment doctrine as articulated in Rust v. Sullivan and most recently in the Court's unanimous 2009 opinion in Pleasant Grove City v. Summum.
Judge Fox rejected the state's argument that the degree of government control was "the" single factor test. Instead, Judge Fox relied upon the Fourth Circuit's four factor test:
- the central purpose of the program in which the speech in question occurs
- the degree of editorial control exercised by the government and private parties
- the identity of the literal speaker
- whether the government or private entity bears the ultimate responsibility for the speech
Judge Fox noted that these factors were consistent with Supreme Court precedent and that the Fourth Circuit had employed them recently.
Applying these factors, Judge Fox found that although the state exercised editorial control (despite the fact that the design and idea originated with a national organization outside the control of the state), the other factors weighed in favor of private, or hybrid private-state speech.
Judge Fox's order closed the case; it is sure to be appealed. Meanwhile, North Carolina car owners are not relegated to the standard license plate: Judge Fox's opinion states that there are 150 types of specialty license plates available in the state. More information is available here.
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
District Judge to Hobby Lobby: No Substantial Burden on Religious Beliefs re: ACA Contraception Compliance
The contraception provision requirement of the ACA continues to foment litigation. However, unlike last week's decision by a federal district judge granting the preliminary injunction in favor of Tyndale House Publishers, a small Christian publishing house, yesterday a federal district judge denied a preliminary injunction sought by Hobby Lobby, a privately held corporation operating 514 arts and crafts stores in 41 states regarding the so-called "morning after" or "Plan B" contraceptive pill.
In a 28 page opinion, Judge Joe Heaton of the Western District of Oklahoma, denied Hobby Lobby's claims, as well as the claims by Mardel, a Christian supply and bookstore chain; both corporations are owned by the Green family through a management trust. Interestingly, much of the judge's analysis revolves around the identity of the plaintiffs as it relates to whether their First Amendment and RFRA are being violated.
Denying the preliminary injunction, Judge Heaton concluded:
Plaintiffs have not demonstrated a probability of success on their First Amendment claims. Hobby Lobby and Mardel, secular, for- profit corporations, do not have free exercise rights. The Greens do have such rights, but are unlikely to prevail as to their constitutional claims because the preventive care coverage regulations they challenge are neutral laws of general applicability which are rationally related to a legitimate governmental objective.
Plaintiffs also have failed to demonstrate a probability of success on their Religious Freedom Restoration Act claims. Hobby Lobby and Mardel are not “persons” for purposes of the RFRA and the Greens have not established that compliance with the preventive care coverage regulations would “substantially burden” their religious exercise, as the term “substantially burdened” is used in the statute. Therefore, plaintiffs have not met their prima facie burden under RFRA and have not demonstrated a probability of success as to their RFRA claims.
The applicability of free exercise rights and RFRA rights to corporations is resoundingly rejected by Judge Heaton. His analysis as to the persons involved does, in part, depend upon their attentuated relationship to the entities subjected to the ACA requirements.
Friday, October 26, 2012
In its opinion in Planned Parenthood of Indiana v. Commissioner of Indiana Department of Health, the Seventh Circuit this week affirmed a district judge's injunction against the state's defunding of Planned Parenthood.
However, the Seventh Circuit upheld the district court on the statutory claim under the Medicaid Act's "free choice of provider" provision, and rejected the constitutional claims of preemption and unconstitutional conditions.
On the preemption claim, the Seventh Circuit panel reversed the district judge's finding that the federal block-grant program for the diagnosis and monitoring of sexually transmitted diseases conflicted with Indiana's defunding of Planned Parenthood in contravention of the Supremacy Clause. The panel applied a presumption in favor of a lack of preemption and found no conflicts, even as implied.
While the district judge had not reached the unconstitutional conditions claim - - - having granted relief on the other claims - - - the Seventh Circuit stated that "it makes sense" to address it. The panel focused on the constitutional right at stake, reasoning that it is a "right against coercive government burdens," but this "implies no limitation on the authority of a State to make a value judgment favoring childbirth over abortion." Thus, the panel concluded that the unconstitutional conditions claim was not likely to succeed on the merits: given that "the government’s refusal to subsidize abortion does not unduly burden a woman’s right to obtain an abortion, then Indiana’s ban on public funding of abortion providers—even for unrelated services—cannot indirectly burden a woman’s right to obtain an abortion."
Thus, although the Seventh Circuit opinion's result requires the funding of Planned Parenthood, the court foreclosed constitutional claims.