What We Learn from Today’s Supreme Court Rulings

The Supreme Court handed down two important decisions today. Both were rightly decided, in my view.

The first was Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. Eugene Volokh has a very good rundown of the case here. Note the following from his post:

. . . The owners of Hobby Lobby sincerely believe that it’s wrong for them to buy their employees insurance plans that they see as supporting abortion. They have no objection to contraception as such, but they view contraceptives that prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg as tantamount to abortion drugs.

The government acknowledges that its regulations require businesses to pay for such contraceptives (on pain of substantial monetary penalties). Therefore the law substantially burdens the owners’ religious practices, by requiring them to do something they think religiously forbidden.

This is a tremendously important point, and one worth mentioning to anyone who claims that the Court banned the use of contraceptives, or buys into some other such hyperbolic interpretation of the Court’s ruling. It is, of course amusing to hear so many people claim that employers ought to stay out of the bedrooms of their employees–while at the same time claiming that employers ought to be compelled to pay for contraceptives. The ironies and contradictions are staggering, but of course, I should note that the cognitive failings of some of the critics of the Hobby Lobby ruling are truly astounding.

More on this issue from law professor Eric Posner. And note that Megan McArdle insists on keeping her head while others about her are losing theirs:

After reading the Twitter reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case, I began researching a post on what women could do now that corporations have exactly the same rights people do, including playing power forward for the Miami Heat, and now that contraception has been outlawed throughout these great United States. Then I read the decision and, to my surprise, found that it didn’t quite say any of that.

So what does it say? The court found that owners of closely held corporations have the same rights as sole proprietors under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. They cannot be forced to violate their religious beliefs unless the government can genuinely find no other way to achieve a compelling public purpose.

But that sounds so boring compared to War on Women! And so that’s the narrative the Internet chose. Here’s a representative tweet from my feed this morning:

So let’s all deny women birth control & get closer to harass them when they’re going in for repro health services. BECAUSE FREEDOM.

Logically, this is incoherent, unless you actually believe that it is impossible to buy birth control without a side payment from your employer. (If you are under this tragic misimpression, then be of good cheer! Generic birth control pills are available from the drugstore for about $25 a month.)

Additionally, in Harris v. Quinn, the Court came to the absolutely non-shocking conclusion that “the government could not force home care personal assistants to pay union dues if they did not wish to join the union. Mandatory payment of such a fee, Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the court, would violate the First Amendment rights of the objecting PAs.” I hardly think that this is a revolutionary finding–indeed, logic and the plain application of the Constitution would seem to demand that non-unionized workers ought not to be compelled to pay fees to a union–but there appear to be some who believe that if unions don’t win every political and constitutional fight, then that means that unions are doomed and working people are consigned to eternal slavery. And people wonder why there is so much misinformation out there in the world.