Thursday, October 24, 2013
SCOTUSblog has links to documents filed earlier this week by the federal government in a number of cases concerning whether corporations have free exercise rights under the First Amendment. Companies like Hobby Lobby have argued that the contraceptive mandate as interpreted by the Executive Branch to enforce the Affordable Care Act's mandate that preventive women's health services be covered without cost sharing substantially burdens the religious rights of either the corporation or its shareholders, and that the mandate thus violates either the First Amendment or the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The Tenth Circuit agreed with Hobby Lobby, finding that the mandate likely violates RFRA, and the federal government has filed a writ of certiorari in that case. Hobby Lobby apparently agrees that the Court should take the case. There is a circuit split between the Tenth Circuit and the Third and Sixth Circuit on this issue, and the Seventh and Eighth have issued unpublished decisions, granting stays of orders to comply with the mandate pending appeal of the issues. Finally, the Ninth Circuit, the Second Circuit, and the Minnesota Supreme Court have all found that corporations or their shareholders have some free exercise rights in other contexts. For more on that and another of these cases, see the cert petition in the Third Circuit case: Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius.
The circuit split, and the general agreement among the parties that the Court should resolve this issue make it more likely the Court will take one of these cases. The real question is whether the Court will consider only RFRA, and decide just Hobby Lobby or consolidate all of the pending petitions, or will consider both RFRA and the First Amendment.