Right-wing media are celebrating now that the conservative justices of the Supreme Court have issued their unprecedented ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, with the Court adopting a number of conservative myths in the decision that allows sex discrimination in the name of corporate religion.
On June 30, the conservative majority of the Supreme Court -- five men and no women -- held that "closely held" for-profit secular corporations like Hobby Lobby are exempt under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) from the "contraception mandate." This so-called mandate, a provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), requires employer-sponsored health insurance to cover comprehensive preventive health care, including birth control. In so holding, the Court's decision in Hobby Lobby gave credence to some of the worst conservative myths that have been steadily advanced by right-wing media.
The fact that Hobby Lobby likely employs workers who have no moral or religious dispute with contraception didn't seem to be of much concern to outlets like The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, or Fox News. From the start, NRO framed the case as a David and Goliath-like scenario, with the Green family owners of Hobby Lobby as victims of the federal government -- despite the fact that Hobby Lobby is a massive corporation, owned by billionaires, with hundreds of stores across the country. Fox & Friends host Elisabeth Hasselbeck went so far as to call the contraception mandate evidence of the "moral decay" of the Obama administration's policies. For right-wing media, the religious beliefs of the owners took precedence over those of their female employees. Apparently, the Supreme Court agreed.
The Court attempted to limit its decision to "closely held" corporations like Hobby Lobby, but according to experts, more than 90 percent of corporations are considered to be "closely held." In his majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito downplayed the significance of the Hobby Lobby decision's expansion of the concept of corporate personhood, writing that "a corporation is simply a form of organization used by human beings to achieve desired ends" and claiming there was nothing radical about extending rights "whether constitutional or statutory" to for-profit secular corporations. His opinion conflated these businesses with non-profits just as right-wing media had urged.
The religious rights of the employees, now held hostage by their employers' moral objections, did not appear to make much of an impact on the Court's conservative majority.
Moreover, wrote Alito, the birth control requirement was not "the least restrictive means" of achieving the "compelling governmental interest" of ensuring no-cost comprehensive preventive health care services for everyone. Instead, said the majority, the government should "assume the cost of providing the contraceptives at issue to any women who are unable to obtain them under their health-insurance policies due to their employers' religious objections," thus shifting the employee-earned benefit of health insurance from a billion-dollar corporation to the general public.
It was enough for Alito that the Greens "sincerely believed" that the contraceptives at issue in the case are "abortifacients" -- echoing right-wing media's constant confusion of the two -- even though they really, really aren't.
Despite the fact that the Supreme Court struck down Massachusetts' abortion clinic buffer zone law, the Wall Street Journal editorial board complained that the Court didn't go further to disallow "other restrictions on abortion protests," inaccurately describing the majority opinion in the process.
On June 26, the Court ruled in McCullen v. Coakley that Massachusetts' buffer zone law violated the First Amendment because it was broader than necessary to achieve the Commonwealth's goal of promoting public safety outside of reproductive health clinics, while simultaneously declining to strike down the constitutionality of buffer zones in general. A version of the law was passed in 2000 in response to years of violent and deadly incidents outside of abortion clinics nationally and directed at Massachusetts clinics in particular. The legislature amended the law in 2007 to further help police officers enforce the law by implementing a 35-foot buffer zone around clinic entrances that prohibit anyone not on clinic business -- anti-choice protestors and pro-choice supporters alike -- from entering and remaining. The Court ultimately found that, while buffer zones are not unconstitutional in and of themselves, Massachusetts' law was not narrowly-tailored enough to support the legitimate interest in promoting public safety.
Joining and writing for the four liberal justices on the Court, Roberts limited his decision to the specific facts, and the specific petitioners in McCullen, as he struck down this specific buffer zone law. For Roberts, because the named plaintiff in this case was apparently a peaceful petitioner and not the "aggressive" type of "face-to-face" protestor who created "clashes" at the entrances of the health centers, the law regulated more speech than is allowed under the public safety rationale of constitutional buffer zones. But in a June 26 editorial, the Journal completely ignored the history of violence outside of abortion clinics across the country, and argued that Roberts "missed an opportunity to clean up one of the Court's mistakes" by failing to overturn Hill v. Colorado, a 2000 case that upheld the constitutionality of a different buffer zone law. The editorial went on to argue that the decision in McCullen "leaves too much speech in future jeopardy" because state legislatures are still free to regulate speech outside of clinics within the bounds of the First Amendment. The Journal also inaccurately claimed that Roberts confirmed that the Massachusetts law was "directed at peaceful speakers":
In McCullen v. Coakley, Chief Justice John Roberts writes that the law unconstitutionally restricts access to public sidewalks around abortion clinics in the name of "public safety" without "seriously addressing the problem through alternatives." By regulating public streets, the state directly foreclosed access to places that "developed as venues for the exchange of ideas." Restrictions must be based on misconduct, not directed at peaceful speakers.
So far, so good. The problem is that the Chief's opinion goes on to engage in contortions arguing that the Massachusetts law really wasn't trying to restrict the "content" of speech. That's critical because it means the law isn't subject to strict First Amendment scrutiny. It also means that while this Massachusetts law went too far, other restrictions on abortion protests might be allowable.
The fascinating question is why the Chief Justice refused to follow the logic of his own free-speech jurisprudence and overturn Hill v. Colorado. Perhaps he figured he would lose the four liberal Justices and thus the authority of a unanimous Court. Or perhaps he has been chastened by all of the liberal media critics who say he's too eager to overturn precedents.
The reality is that he's not eager enough, and thus the Court ends up with too many of these halfway decisions that reach the right outcome for what are often the wrong reasons. The First Amendment needs a more stalwart defender in the Chief Justice's chair.
Fox News host Martha MacCallum described the pending Hobby Lobby case -- a challenge to the Affordable Care Act's requirement that all employer-sponsored health insurance cover contraceptives as part of preventive services -- by repeating four right-wing media myths in the span of 17 seconds. MacCallum adopted the false narrative of the religious owners of the for-profit, secular chain store and its supporters during the June 25 edition of America's Newsroom:
1. "The Hobby Lobby case, which challenges the Obamacare conception mandate that requires ..."
As political science professor Scott Lemieux explained, "there is no 'contraception mandate.' Hobby Lobby is not legally required to compensate its employees with health insurance at all. ... What is erroneously described as a 'mandate' simply means that if corporations choose to take advantage of the tax benefits for compensating employees in health insurance rather than wages, the insurance has to meet minimum coverage standards." In other words, Hobby Lobby can avoid contraception coverage by providing no health insurance at all -- but it may not hold its employees hostage by sponsoring health insurance policies that are not complaint with the ACA.
2. "... that employers provide ..."
As Georgetown Law professor Marty Lederman has written, it would be the federal government that requires the insurance companies -- not Hobby Lobby -- to meet the minimum coverage standards that include comprehensive preventive services, including birth control. According to Lederman, "Once the HHS Rule goes into effect, it would not be the Greens who 'directed' the Hobby Lobby ... insurance plans, in any real sense, to cover contraception: That would, instead, be a legal requirement imposed by the government -- and it's a requirement that applies to any and all such plans throughout the nation, whether sponsored by an employer or not."
3. "... free access to conception methods ..."
It turns out that so-called "free" birth control isn't actually free. In fact, "it is misleading -- and politically dangerous to say so," according to Jodi Jacobson, editor-in-chief of RH Reality Check, because "if you have insurance, you pay for it, either by virtue of your labor or out of your own pocket, or, depending on the situation, both. And under the ACA, it is now mandated that your insurance plan cover certain benefits without a co-pay. This does not make them 'free.' It means that you are paying for that service as part of your premium. You earned it, you paid for it, it is yours. If you pay for it, you deserve to get it."
4. "... as part of a comprehensive Obamacare health policy, includ[ed] in that would be some drugs which could trigger abortion."
Despite the fact that Hobby Lobby "sincerely believes" that some contraceptives result in the termination of a pregnancy, the science simply does not support this claim. According to The New York Times, "It turns out that the politically charged debate over morning-after pills and abortion ... is probably rooted in outdated or incorrect scientific guesses about how the pills work. Because they block creation of fertilized eggs, they would not meet abortion opponents' definition of abortion-inducing drugs."
The Wall Street Journal is criticizing the Supreme Court's recent securities class action decision that refused to overrule 25 years of precedent because of the "mischief" of successful investor class actions, even though the Court adopted a compromise that the Journal had previously advocated for.
On June 23, the Supreme Court ruled in Halliburton v. Erica P. John Fund that investors who had been harmed by corporate fraud could continue to rely on the "fraud on the market" theory to pursue class action lawsuits. That theory, first outlined in Basic v. Levinson in 1988, recognizes that in a relatively efficient regulated market, publicly available information about a corporation will be reflected in its stock price, including fraudulent statements or disclosures made by corporate officers. "Fraud on the market" allows a subsequent lawsuit on the presumption that when making investment decisions, shareholders are relying on the assurance that the stock price is not distorted by a corporation's fraud.
As the Journal knew, Halliburton had the potential to gut this well-established precedent for investor class actions, which allow institutional investors -- like union pension funds -- to protect their investments from fraud, because it would be nearly impossible to litigate individualized reliance on the fraudulent information before buying or selling stock. Often, these misrepresentations are buried in thousands of pages of financial disclosure documents, but nevertheless are incorporated into and impact the overall price of a company's stock. Rather than accept Halliburton's invitation to reject both its own case law and subsequent federal legislation that affirmed the "fraud on the market" theory, the Court instead adopted a version of a "midway compromise" discussed at oral arguments. The Court held that corporate defendants can now introduce studies at the class certification stage (before the class action commences) that show that the price of the stock was not affected by material misstatements made by corporate officers, evidence that has typically been evaluated later at trial.
But the Journal is upset at this turn of events -- even though it had previously lobbied the Court to "require some evidence of price movement resulting from a misstatement before a class is formed," because securities class action lawsuits are supposedly "economically destructive." The Journal is no great fan of class actions in any form, despite the fact they are often the most efficient and economical way for groups of injured people to access justice and obtain legal relief. In its coverage of Halliburton, the editorial board has parroted right-wing myths propagated by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, calling class actions "frivolous" and not much more than a "windfall" for plaintiffs' lawyers.
The Wall Street Journal is celebrating a recent Supreme Court ruling that will allow an anti-choice activist group to challenge the constitutionality of an Ohio law that bans false statements in election campaigns, a state statute that is opposed by free speech advocates across the political spectrum. But the WSJ went on to erroneously argue that the false statement at issue in the case -- that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) funds abortions -- is actually true, because contraceptives are actually "abortifacients."
On June 16, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the group, Susan B. Anthony List, had standing to sue over the Ohio statute. Susan B. Anthony List, which is "dedicated to electing candidates and pursuing policies that will reduce and ultimately end abortion," ran into trouble when it tried to take out a billboard calling Ohio congressman Steve Driehaus' vote for the ACA a vote for "taxpayer funded abortion." Driehaus filed a complaint against Susan B. Anthony under the Ohio statute, but ultimately withdrew it after he lost his election. Nonetheless, the organization challenged the constitutionality of the false statement law, claiming that it violated their First Amendment rights.
The Court's decision did not address the merits of Susan B. Anthony's claim. But that didn't stop some right-wing media outlets from calling the ruling "a big win ... for the pro-life movement." The Wall Street Journal evidently agreed with this analysis and added that the decision is "a rebuke to politicians who don't want to be criticized" in a June 16 editorial. The WSJ went on to argue that the billboard at issue had been "vindicated" because the ACA forces "religious groups to finance abortifacents."
From the editorial:
Monday's decision concerned whether Susan B. Anthony was able to sue. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals had said it could not because Mr. Driehaus withdrew his complaint after he lost. But Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the Court that this decision improperly minimized the burden on groups whose speech is chilled for fear that they could be sanctioned or sued. Lower courts will now revisit the constitutional challenge.
As it happens, Susan B. Anthony's billboard claim has been vindicated by the Obama Administration's rule forcing religious groups to finance abortifacients in their health-care policies for employees. In a democracy, voters rather than a priesthood of regulators are obliged to sort out the truth or falsity of political claims. Congrats to Susan B. Anthony, and perhaps the Sixth Circuit will seek out some remedial First Amendment education.
A new Delaware law that would restore the rights of stockholders to bring class action lawsuits without fear of having to pay legal costs if they don't win every single part of their legal claim is being slammed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its affiliate, the Institute for Legal Reform (ILR). But even right-wing media outlet Forbes isn't sold on their arguments.
In May, the Delaware Supreme Court surprisingly ruled in ATP Tour v. Deutscher Tennis Bund that corporations were allowed to unilaterally add bylaws forcing the loser in shareholder litigation to pay all the associated legal fees. These sorts of "loser pays" provisions are atypical in the U.S. but have been promoted by conservative organizations like the Chamber and the ILR under the guise of ending "frivolous lawsuits." Ultimately, though, such provisions have the effect of deterring or outright blocking many meritorious class action lawsuits brought by victims of corporate malfeasance.
In response to the state supreme court's holding in ATP Tour, Delaware legislators have proposed SB 236, a bill that would reinstate the normal prohibition on "loser pays" bylaws. The ILR is already registering its vocal opposition to the bill, arguing that it will leave corporations vulnerable to "abusive litigation."
Usually, right-wing media can be counted on to recycle the Chamber and ILR's pro-business talking points, in particular The Wall Street Journal editorial board. This time, however, even Forbes' Daniel Fisher questioned ILR's arguments. According to Fisher, who has supported anti-consumer provisions like forced arbitration clauses in the past, "opponents of SB 236 may be pushing too far" by promoting a loser pays system:
The bill's sponsor, Democratic Sen. Bryan Townsend, said he will set the bill aside for a while amid vocal opposition by the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, according to the Wilmington News Journal.
The bill seems to restore the status quo by affirming the limited liability nature of corporations, where shareholders can only lose money to the extent of their investment. But the ILR said the proposed law -- passed, it noted, on "an extraordinarily expedited basis" -- would reverse a decision that "gives corporations a way to protect their shareholders" against the costs of "abusive litigation."
By pushing to retain the option implied by the ATP Tour decision, opponents of SB 236 may be pushing too far. Delaware courts have granted them ample tools to deal with shareholder litigation and chipping away at limited liability might be a cure that is worse than the disease.
Fisher's skepticism of ILR's issues with the bill are well-founded. According to Paul Bland, executive director of Public Justice, the Delaware Supreme Court's decision not only runs afoul of the basic concepts of contract law by allowing corporations to unilaterally change the rules of the game on their investors, it makes it "far easier for corporations to insulate themselves from accountability if they cheat shareholders or break the law. By contrast, the vast majority of courts in the U.S. disapprove of this kind of loser-pays provision."
It's not just states like Delaware that are threatening the viability of investor class action lawsuits, one of the best ways for defrauded stakeholders to get legal relief from the corporation who harmed them. Any day now, the Supreme Court will issue its decision in Halliburton v. Erica P. John Fund, a case that could make it nearly impossible for investors who have been the victims of corporate fraud to join together as a class and sue. Watch Bland explain in two minutes how Halliburton could be yet another in a long line of pro-business decisions from the conservative majority at the Court:
Media outlets are starting to report on the reintroduction of "post-abortion syndrome" (PAS) and similar junk science that claims a causal link between abortion and mental illness, which is being used in a coordinated attempt to defend restrictive state abortion laws in court. Witnesses claiming abortion leads to mental trauma are being organized by the discredited psychotherapist Vincent Rue, whose theories about PAS were debunked by reporters and experts years ago.
Right-wing media outlets like Fox News and National Review Online have pushed the myth of "post-abortion syndrome," the idea that choosing to have an abortion causes subsequent mental illness. The concept of "post-abortion syndrome" was developed by discredited psychotherapist and anti-abortion activist Vincent Rue, and is at the center of numerous current legal challenges to statewide abortion restrictions.
Both Wisconsin and Alabama have passed highly restrictive abortion laws, known as TRAP laws, that target abortion providers under the pretext of protecting women's health. These laws require abortion providers to obtain unusual admitting privileges at local hospitals, even though such privileges are difficult to obtain and keep. Providers are now challenging these laws in federal court, arguing that the regulations are unnecessary because abortion procedures are exceedingly safe. Moreover, the admitting privileges requirement is so burdensome that it will force clinics in each state to close down, and will increase wait times at the remaining clinics.
State officials in Wisconsin and Alabama defending these laws in court are relying on expert witnesses who have been coached by Rue to testify that "depression could be a complication of abortion," but media in the states where Rue has offered his "expertise" are starting to report on his unreliable theories. As explained by Isthmus, an alternative weekly newspaper in Madison, WI, "post-abortion syndrome" has not been recognized by either the American Psychological Association or the American Psychiatric Association. Not only that, but Rue's expert testimony has been thrown out twice by federal appellate judges because of his "limited clinical and research experience. In Planned Parenthood v. Casey the judge also wrote that Rue's 'admitted personal opposition to abortion, even in cases of rape and incest, suggests a possible personal bias.'"
Yet faulty hypotheses like Rue's have been repeatedly championed by conservative media in support of the closure of dozens of clinics across the country. Fox News shows like Hannity and The Five have explicitly linked abortion with mental illness and depression, and have questioned the mental health of women who choose to terminate their pregnancies. National Review Online has similarly argued that there is a "substantial body of academic research which has linked abortion to a variety of mental-health problems, including depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances, substance abuse, and suicide."
But there is no evidence of a causal link between abortion and subsequent mental health problems. In 2008, the American Psychological Association "formed the Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion to examine the scientific research addressing mental health factors associated with abortion, including the psychological responses following abortion." According to its analysis, there is "no evidence that having a single abortion causes mental health problems":
The Task Force concluded that there is no credible evidence that a single elective abortion of an unwanted pregnancy in and of itself causes mental health problems for adult women. The research consistently found that the backgrounds and circumstances of the women who seek abortions vary. The Task Force found some studies that indicate that some women do experience sadness, grief and feelings of loss following an abortion and some experience "clinically significant disorders, including depression and anxiety." The evidence regarding the relative mental health risks associated with multiple abortions is more uncertain.
Print media outlets in Wisconsin and Alabama have begun reporting on the discredited theories of anti-choice advocate Vincent Rue, who is being used by state officials to coordinate an attack on reproductive rights in federal court. As these cases progress, media should be aware of Rue's affiliation with the national anti-abortion movement as well as his questionable track record as an "expert."
In May, doctors in Wisconsin and Alabama went to federal court to challenge unnecessarily restrictive laws introduced in both states that require abortion providers to obtain unusual hospital admitting privileges -- a mandate that could force some of the state's clinics to close because the doctors there lack those privileges at local hospitals. These kinds of laws -- known as Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers, or TRAP laws -- have become increasingly common throughout the country as a way to block access to abortions under the guise of women's health. Admitting privileges are not only extremely difficult to obtain and maintain, many medical professionals believe they are unnecessary for these types of clinics because abortions are generally safe, safer than other medical procedures that don't require such privileges, and patients rarely need to be admitted to the hospital due to complications.
Providers in the Wisconsin case -- Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin v. Van Hollen -- have argued that if the law stands, they would be forced to close down essential clinics throughout the state, placing a significant burden on the remaining providers, and putting women's health and safety at greater risk. Planned Parenthood has argued that such closures could increase wait times from three to four weeks to eight to ten weeks at its Milwaukee clinic. In Planned Parenthood Southeast v. Strange, doctors are challenging a similar law in Alabama, arguing that abortion clinics there are also at risk of shutting down due to the stringent, and unnecessary, admitting privileges requirement.
However, state officials in Wisconsin and Alabama are still defending these laws in court, claiming that admitting privileges are necessary to promote the health and safety of women. To prove this point, each states' attorneys general have called on "expert witnesses" -- specifically pro-life doctors -- who have testified in support of admitting privileges. But only two local outlets appear to have reported the connection between these "expert witnesses" and Vincent Rue, an unreliable psychotherapist who "coined the term 'post-abortion syndrome,' which purports a link between abortion and mental health issues," who has been behind the coordination and coaching effort of these witnesses in multiple states.
In a 2000 interview with the Elliot Institute -- an anti-reproductive choice organization that has been criticized for "building a literature to be used in efforts to restrict access to abortion," Rue supported his study on "post-abortion syndrome" by saying: "Since ambivalence is a good predictor of postabortion problems, it is likely that many of these women are having post-abortion symptoms that simply fall short of full-blown PAS."
Outlets such as the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and the Wisconsin State Journal covered the trial in Wisconsin, highlighting pro-life physician Dr. James Linn's testimony that he had patients "abandoned" by their doctors when traumatic complications arose. But they did not mention that Linn, as well as pro-life physician Dr. James Anderson, had been coached by Rue. According to Isthmus, an alternative weekly newspaper in Madison, Anderson testified in open court that he joined the case after he was contacted by Rue, "who helped him with 'wordsmithing' his report to the court."
As Isthmus reported, Linn's testimony was called into question by lawyers representing abortion providers because Rue's "post-abortion syndrome" diagnosis "had been discredited":
First proposed in the early 1980s, the condition is not recognized by the American Psychological Association or the American Psychiatric Association. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University, who conducted a comprehensive review of the scientific literature in 2008, also rejected the hypothesis.
According to an online bio, Rue is currently the director of the Institute for Pregnancy Loss in Jacksonville, Fla., described as an "independent nonprofit research and treatment center." Rue notes that he has treated "numerous women and men who have been traumatized by their abortion experience" and that he serves as a "litigation consultant" for numerous offices of state attorneys general in abortion-related lawsuits.
According to documents obtained by Isthmus, the Wisconsin Department of Justice expects to pay Rue $47,362.50 for his work as an "expert consultant" on the admitting-privileges lawsuit.
In Alabama, where officials are also fighting to severely restrict women's access to abortion, the state's largest papers have mostly relied on wire stories from the Associated Press (which also have not mentioned Rue) to report on the legal challenge to Alabama's TRAP law. But the Montgomery Advertiser, a daily newspaper in Alabama, was one of the few newspapers in the state to both cover the trial and highlight Rue's connection to the witnesses. According to the Advertiser, Anderson, who gave testimony in Wisconsin, also testified in support of Alabama's admitting privileges law in May after being prepped by Rue:
[Attorneys for the abortion providers] challenged Anderson's connection with Vincent Rue, a pro-life activist who has suggested links between abortion and subsequent mental illness in women, an idea that has been twice rejected by the American Psychological Association; Rue assisted Anderson in preparation of his expert statements. Griffith asked Anderson if he knew that Rue had been "discredited" in other trials; Anderson, who earlier testified that depression could be a complication of abortion, said he did not. Griffith also noted that Rue's degree was from the University of North Carolina's School of Home Economics.
Judge Thompson also questioned Anderson about his relationship with Rue, asking if Anderson had any knowledge of where Rue worked or his professional credentials. Anderson said he did not, a response that seemed to surprise Thompson.
"You don't know his employment or any organization he belongs to?" Thompson asked. "Why do you trust him?"
Anderson said he had worked with Rue on other abortion cases, and found him reliable.
As both cases are still pending, it will give media outlets in those states the opportunity to ensure their reporting begins or continues to shine a light on Rue's sketchy science and his coordination of state's witnesses in defense of these TRAP laws -- especially since a similar "post-abortion syndrome" rationale has already been alluded to in Supreme Court opinions limiting women's access to safe abortion procedures. Writing for the majority in 2007, Justice Anthony Kennedy concluded that "it seems unexceptionable to conclude that some women come to regret their choice to abort the infant life they once created and sustained" and that "severe depression and loss of esteem can follow." The conservative majority subsequently ignored reproductive rights precedent and upheld the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act, a George W. Bush-era law that criminalizes late-term abortions.
Right-wing media figures incorrectly described President Obama's signing statement attached to a law involving what type of Congressional notification is required before Guantanamo detainees are freed, avoiding the substantive question of whether or not a Commander-in-Chief had the responsibility and authority to rescue Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, a captured American soldier. In fact, signing statements are a common practice of the modern presidency, the President has used these pronouncements far less frequently than his predecessors, and bipartisan legal experts are validating the administration's legal arguments.