When SCOTUS rules, watch for unintended consequences

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Justice Antonin Scalia's dissent when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned DOMA inadvertently opened the door to states overturning gay marriage bans.

Photo courtesy of Stephen Masker, via Wiki Commons

Justice Antonin Scalia's dissent when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned DOMA inadvertently opened the door to states overturning gay marriage bans.

Plant a carrot; get a carrot, not a brussels sprout. That’s why I love vegetables. You know what you’re about.

Those lyrics from a Broadway show, The Fantasticks, come to mind when I mull unintended consequences.

And boy howdy are consequences on my mind right now as we begin months of waiting for the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties – a.k.a. the Hobby Lobby case where Christian private business-owning family corporations challenge the Obamacare contraception mandate case.

It’s got politics. It’s got science. It’s got religious freedom, and women’s rights and the moral limits of health insurance. Read the transcript at SCOTUS blog.  It’s all in one giant ball of wax mixed in with whether a corporation is a person (i.e. Citizens United) and a person’s personal religious belief trumps all.

Today’s twitterstorm between dueling hashtags #notmybossbusiness and #religiousfreedomforall was riddled with misinformation, hyperbole, and troll posts. Fortunately, it turned out to be more of a twittersquall that blew over fairly quickly. It slid from Twitter’s top 10 by noon Eastern to be replaced by the vulgarly hilarious #RuinAChildrensBook.

Now, we wait. We wait not only for the ruling but also for the surprising ways that ruling could play out.

Melinda Henneberger raises excellent questions as people try to read the SCOTUS/HobbyLobby arguments today like studying Chinese wall posters. She asks:

  • Whether there’s a compelling government interest in forcing dissenters to pay for coverage they don’t believe in and whether forcing them to pay a fine if they choose not to comply constitutes a substantial burden?
  • Are ‘Plan B’ and ‘Ella’ really abortifacient, and if you believe they are, is that enough?
  • If RFRA applies to for-profits, then what if not all of those who run it are in religious agreement?
  • And finally, wouldn’t this open the door to discrimination against gay people on religious grounds?”

Ah, yes, open doors…

Justice Antonin Scalia's dissent when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned DOMA inadvertently opened the door to states overturning gay marriage bans.(Photo by Stephen Masker, via Wiki Commons,  http://bit.ly/1gjqwMQ)

Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned DOMA inadvertently opened the door to states overturning gay marriage bans.

Remember, it’s Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent when SCOTUS overturned DOMA last year that judge after judge cites as they overturn one state gay marriage ban after another. Scalia wrote:

“By formally declaring anyone opposed to same-sex marriage an enemy of human decency, the majority arms well every challenger to a state law restricting marriage to its traditional definition. Henceforth those challengers will lead with this Court’s declaration that there is “no legitimate purpose” served by such a law…”

So far, that’s exactly what’s happened in six states.

No matter how the justices find in the Hobby Lobby case, be sure to read the dissent.

  • You’re right — this has all the culture wars rolled into one landmark case that both sides (perhaps rightly) claim will set precedent for generations. Perhaps *because* of unintended consequences, I’m anticipating a narrow ruling for Hobby Lobby. Companies will have some wiggle room on the most contentious things, but the Court won’t open the door to “sincerely held religious beliefs” being used at every turn.

    We’ll know in June. Keep up the good work.

  • Susan Humphreys

    I found two comments from the court case interesting. Kagan I think it was commented about the Supreme Court being put in the position of having to decide if someone’s “religious beliefs” are legitimate or not. I think with that comment she can see the “can of worms” that may be opened by this case. I don’t think the Supreme Court should or is qualified to decide what is or is not a “legitimate” belief. AND I don’t really think Church’s or religious individuals want the Supreme Court or any court to start making such decisions!That would in essence be endorsing one belief over another which our government and it’s courts aren’t supposed to do. Then one of the men or it could have been two of them, I heard this comment made twice buy didn’t catch if it came from the same person twice, that he could see the Hobby Lobby folks were “sincere” in their beliefs. I thought wait a minute, the KuKluxKlansmen and Nazis were “sincere” in their beliefs. Sincerity or insincerity should have nothing to do with legal decisions that affect the rights of ALL people. The pro-insurance folks were just as sincere in my opinion as the Hobby Lobby folks. Are court cases going to be determined by the justices concept of “sincerety”?

  • Larry

    Given how gunshy the current SCOTUS is about making wide reaching decisions these days, I would expect some kind of compromised ruling. Something on the lines of :
    1. No corporate religious belief
    2. Exceptions to the contraception mandate will be narrowly tailored.

    One has to bear in mind that corporate America largely does not support Hobby Lobby here. They do not want to see a dilution of the “corporate veil” which is so important to operations and legal issues of incorporation.

    Its going to come down to Kennedy’s vote. He has proven himself to be a liberal on civil liberties issues but a fiscal conservative. I can’t see him finding for corporate religious belief but I can see him finding some weak point in the ACA.

    Of course there is the possibility that Scalia isn’t such an intellectually dishonest windbag and he finds that Hobby Lobby was simply stretching the point of religious freedom too far. But I doubt that. Divine intervention would be required for that.

  • Atheist Max

    Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson would hate this loss of rights.

    As the religious find fewer buyers of their delusional medicine, they will abuse the system to force their medicine onto everybody else.
    The Right wing Christians think they know what we ALL need and they want us to ALL take it.

    Unintended consequences of all this:

    TEXAS HOLY ROLLERS (THINK THEY) WON! – ALL Abortion providers in Texas must now have a doctor on full time staff who would have the authority to admit patients to a hospital within 50 miles of the abortion clinic.

    It was designed to CLOSE abortion clinics.

    HOWEVER…. each Abortion Clinic will now need to hire a new doctor, paid for by the state, to fill this ridiculous, arbitrary and unnecessary job order because it will be unconstitutional for them to not have such a doctor on staff.

    Texas must love to shoot itself in the foot. Rick Perry anyone?