Law Prof: High Court Rulings Champion Individual Liberty

Monday, 30 Jun 2014 04:31 PM

By Sean Piccoli

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In separate rulings on union dues and Obamacare's contraception-coverage clause, the Supreme Court gave individuals the power to opt out of workplace mandates that violate their First Amendment rights, University of Missouri law professor  and  former clerk to Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Erin Hawley, told Newsmax TV on Monday.

Hawley told "MidPoint" host Ed Berliner that the two cases, combined, are a "big win for individual freedom."

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The high court ruled 5-4 on Monday that the federal government cannot force a private, for-profit company to cover its employees' contraception costs if doing so conflicts too severely with the owners' religious beliefs.

The majority opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito, sided with a group of companies, including the Hobby Lobby chain of craft stores, and against the Department of Heath and Human Services, which argued that the Affordable Care Act requires insurance coverage for birth control.

The court ruled that if HHS wants to guarantee contraception coverage for individuals who happen to work for Hobby Lobby, it can find another way to do so that doesn't burden the religious beliefs of the company's owners.

"So, Justice Alito said just because you as a business owner choose to take the corporate form, choose to make a profit, you don't have to leave your religious liberty rights behind," said Hawley.

But the court left the government room to challenge a person's or company's religious sensibilities in future cases, she said.

"So, even if someone has a sincere religious belief against, let's say, blood transfusions, the court could say, 'Well, in this case the state still has a compelling government interest and they have proven that this is the least restrictive means, [and] that this person has to have a blood transfusion,' " said Hawley.

Hawley guessed the ruling will not necessarily spur a host of religious challenges to public policy, and she said the high court will not allow itself to be drawn into deciding which religions are valid.

She said the court does occasionally have to decide whether people are sincere in their religious beliefs.

"You do have to show sincerity," said Hawely. But she added that sincerity was not at issue in the Hobby Lobby case, because the companies involved have clear, documented histories of incorporating religious principles into their business practices.

In another case Monday, Harris v. Quinn, the Supreme Court decided 5-4 that 26,000 home-based healthcare workers in Illinois cannot be required to pay dues to the public employees union that negotiates their pay rate.

The decision, also written by Alito, said these non-unionized workers — independent contractors reimbursed by the state with federal money, but not employed by the state as full-timers — cannot be required to pay fees to a union that takes positions they disagree with.

The court confined itself to one category of workers — in-home caretakers for the disabled — in one state — Illinois — and did not rule on the general question of whether unions, in principle, can charge dues to non-members who are covered under their collective bargaining agreements.

But Hawley said the ruling could set in motion a series of challenges to public-sector unions elsewhere.

"I think we can see the writing on the wall, at least in the number of [likely] challenges," said Hawley. "This will be a big sort of opening salvo for individual freedom."

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