On Monday, June 30, 2014, the US Supreme Court issued its opinion in the Hobby Lobby case. In a 5-4 opinion totaling over 95 pages, (Justice Alito delivered the opinion, with Justice Kennedy filing a concurring opinion, while Justice Ginsburg and Justices Kagan/Breyer filed dissenting opinions) the Supreme Court ruled that solely in the context of the contraception mandate of the Affordable Care Act, closely held corporations CANNOT be required to provide contraception coverage. My initial reading of the lengthy opinion is that the Court held that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) prohibits the “Government [from] substantially burden[ing] a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability” unless the Government “demonstrates that application of the burden to the person-(1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.” The Court’s ruling makes it clear that for-profit corporations are covered by the RFRA. The decision does not address corporations that are not “closely held”, such as publically traded corporations. The decision does find that corporations are “persons” for RFRA purposes. The Court makes it clear that the government can provide contraceptive coverage to female employees if it so desires. The majority opinion also stresses that religion CANNOT be used as a shield to discriminate based on other protected categories, such as race, religion and sexual orientation.
Practice pointers. This opinion is lengthy and will take more time to fully digest. However, in light of the anticipation and importance of the decision, I have provided the brief summary above. It appears as if the immediate impacts of this case are: a. closely held corporations are “persons”, at least under the RFRA; b. religious (or other corporations) cannot use religion as a shield for discrimination against other protected individuals; and c. this case was decided on the basis of RFRA, and not on the First Amendment as argued by Hobby Lobby. I will follow up with a future blog examining this decision in more detail in the near future.