The Wall Street Journal downplayed a "rare" and "extreme" Supreme Court order that could make it even more difficult for women to obtain contraceptive coverage in the wake of the Hobby Lobby decision, arguing that Justice Sonia Sotomayor "may come to regret her furious dissent" from the ruling.
On June 30, the conservative justices of the Supreme Court held in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby that the chain craft store was exempt from a provision in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that requires employer-provided health insurance plans to cover preventive health care services, including birth control. The majority opinion, helmed by Justice Samuel Alito, suggested that the government offer for-profit, secular corporations like Hobby Lobby the same accommodation that exempts religiously-affiliated non-profits from the birth control requirement. In order for such non-profits to take advantage of this exemption, they must sign a self-certification form that states their moral objection to birth control, which allows their insurance companies to provide the medications to employees at no additional cost.
But the Court, not to mention right-wing media outlets, ignored the flaw in this plan -- that the religious accommodation is also being challenged as an illegal burden on religious freedom. Wheaton College, a Christian school in Illinois, is one of the challengers arguing that signing the exemption form "makes it complicit in grave moral evil" because the college "sincerely believes" that signing will "enable the flow of abortion-inducing drugs." On July 3, the Supreme Court issued an emergency injunction in Wheaton's favor, excusing the college from signing the exemption form until after its lawsuit is heard by the lower courts. Sotomayor, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan, dissented from the order, writing that "those who are bound by our decisions usually believe they can take us at our word. Not so today. ... [Granting the injunction] evinces disregard for even the newest of this Court's precedents and undermines confidence in this institution."
In a July 6 editorial, the Journal dismissed the significance of the injunction, and called Sotomayor's dissent an "overreaction":
Our guess is that Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor may come to regret her furious dissent last week to a simple Court order granting a temporary religious liberty reprieve to Wheaton College from having to obey ObamaCare's contraception mandate. She and the two other female Justices accused the Court's majority of all sorts of legal offenses, not least dishonesty.
Wheaton is challenging that accommodation as too restrictive, but the Court did not rule on the merits last week. All it did was grant a reprieve from having to obey the mandate while the case is being heard. This says little about how the Court might eventually rule, notwithstanding Justice Sotomayor's angry implication. The reprieve will also not deny any reproductive services to anyone.
Justice Sotomayor suggested the majority had harmed the Court's reputation, but it seems to us that her overreaction did far more to make the Justices a political target.
From the July 6 edition of ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos:
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From the July 2 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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Conservative media dismissed the impact of the Supreme Court's decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which granted closely-held corporations the right to deny employees contraceptive coverage through their employer's health plans if they believe the contraceptives conflict with their religious beliefs, claiming that women still have access to contraception because a generic form of birth control is available at drug stores for low cost.
Fox News is minimizing the radical nature of the Supreme Court's decision in Hobby Lobby, framing it as narrowly-tailored and claiming that the federal government "will end up paying" for the four contraceptives that the chain store objected to. However, Fox is ignoring the fact that companies are challenging all 20 contraceptives covered under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and that one way the conservative majority suggested the government could bridge the gap in coverage -- providing the same opt-out accommodation to for-profits that it provides to religiously-affiliated non-profits -- is already being challenged in the lower courts.
On June 30, the Supreme Court ruled in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, holding that for-profit, secular corporations are exempt from a provision in the ACA that requires employer-sponsored health insurance plans to cover comprehensive preventive health services, including contraception. The religious owners of Hobby Lobby objected to providing coverage for certain forms of birth control, including emergency contraception and intrauterine devices, because they erroneously believe that these medications cause abortions. For the all-male conservative majority on the Court, it was enough that the owners "sincerely believed" this scientifically inaccurate information.
Right-wing media immediately celebrated the Hobby Lobby decision, which adopted many of their favorite myths about religious freedom and contraception. Fox News in particular was supportive of the Court's supposedly "narrow ruling," with contributor Laura Ingraham claiming that women who worked at companies "like Hobby Lobby" who were upset about the decision were overreacting and "had really bad cases of the vapors over this case." A panel discussion on the June 30 edition of Fox's On the Record with Greta Van Susteren also downplayed the significance of the case, with Weekly Standard senior writer Stephen Hayes stating that he didn't think the case would "have a huge impact" because "the Court very carefully narrowed this case to apply basically to the facts presented." A.B. Stoddard, associate editor of The Hill, agreed with Hayes and claimed that the case was "narrowly-tailored," arguing that "the government will end up paying for these [forms of contraception] anyway." Fox News host Megyn Kelly went the furthest on The O'Reilly Factor, claiming reproductive rights advocate Sandra Fluke -- who warned the decision could apply to all contraception -- "doesn't know what she is talking about."
From the July 1 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Sean Hannity Show:
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A Tampa Tribune editorial celebrating the Supreme Court's decision to allow companies to discriminate against certain types of birth control in their insurance plans furthered the flawed concept that the government was forcing companies to provide "life-ending morning-after pills." In fact, the scientific community has found that the disputed forms of contraception are not abortifacients.
Fox contributor Charles Krauthammer falsely claimed that the Obama administration "arbitrarily" determined that the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) preventive services requirement must include contraception. Krauthammer's claim ignores that the ACA includes contraception as a preventive services requirement for women, and dismisses the fact that contraception is an integral form of preventive care for women.
Following the June 30 Supreme Court decision that closely held corporations cannot be required to provide health coverage that includes contraception, Krauthammer asserted that the Obama administration "arbitrarily" decided that the ACA's mandate that employers provide preventative care should include birth control, "as if pregnancy is a disease to be prevented":
From the June 30 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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From the June 30 edition of Fox News' The Five:
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On June 30th, five male justices held that "closely held" for-profit secular corporations like Hobby Lobby are exempt under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) from the so-called "contraception mandate." Right-wing media predictably cheered and mocked women's access to contraception, even though the decision was based on a series of myths.
Here are eight women explaining why the Hobby Lobby decision is dead wrong:
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.
From the June 30 edition of Fox News' Happening Now:
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From the June 30 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:
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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.