Among the many court cases challenging contraception requirements under the Affordable Care Act, the case involving the Little Sisters of the Poor has been, and continues to be, a strange one. The latest wrinkle came on Friday in what SCOTUSblog’s Lyle Denniston calls a “partial win” for the order of nuns.
The Little Sisters, represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, appealed to the Supreme Court to prevent the group from having to sign a form documenting its religious objection to providing contraception coverage while its broader challenge to the law moves through the courts. The Tenth Circuit had rejected a similar request.
Under the Obama administration’s accommodation for religious groups, that form would exempt the organization from providing or paying for contraception coverage, and that responsibility would pass to the group’s insurer. In a brief to the Supreme Court, the Solicitor General’s office said that by Becket’s reasoning, a Quaker couldn’t be required to attest to his religious objections before being absolved of military obligations. But Becket insisted that the form acted as a “permission slip” that would trigger contraception coverage, and that would make the nuns complicit.
What makes this argument even stranger is the fact that the Little Sisters’ insurer is classified as a “church plan,” which is exempt from enforcement of the ACA requirement. So whether or not the Little Sisters signed the form, their lay employees would still not have access to coverage.
On Friday, the Supreme Court granted the Little Sisters’ request for an injunction, with a proviso. The group did not have to sign the government’s religious objection form, but it did have to notify the Department of Health and Human Services of its religious objections by letter. The Becket Fund declared victory and announced itself “delighted” by the Court’s compromise.
So, to recap: requiring a religious organization to sign a form opting out of providing contraception coverage is religious tyranny, but requiring a religious organization to send a letter to HHS stating its objections to providing contraception coverage is a victory for religious freedom.
Just wait until the Supreme Court hears the more far-reaching Hobby Lobby case, in which Becket and its client seek to establish the principle that for-profit companies can opt out of laws protecting their employees if those laws conflict with the religious beliefs of the corporation’s owners.
To celebrate the 93rd Anniversary Women’s Equality Day on Monday, People For members joined hundreds of progressive allies on the steps of the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison for the “Stand With Wisconsin Women” Rally. The event opened with a song from the Solidarity Singalong participants, and featured Wisconsin women, activists, and legislators speaking out against the Wisconsin GOP’s war against women.
(Video credit: Scott Foval / PFAW.org)
“Thanks to the ACA, the Affordable Care Act, I will no longer pay co-pays for my birth control. As a woman I will no longer be charged simply for being a woman, and attempting to control my own reproductive life,” said Kristina Nailen. “I am still afraid. I am afraid that after these nine years of accumulating debt just for my bachelors, graduating this year with 83,000 in debt before interest, that I will be able to manage my own health care and make my loan repayments.”
Nailen called on Governor Walker and the Republican-controlled Wisconsin legislature to reverse their decision to cut the BadgerCare program, and immediately restore health care funding and provide access to more than 100,000 Wisconsin women who count on the program for their health care coverage.
The rally also featured a roster of activists, leaders, and legislators calling for equal pay for women, for paid family leave legislation, and endorsing the return of legislation promoting common sense, true equality, and fairness for all citizens; including working women, low wage workers, same-sex couples, disabled persons, and immigrants. Following the rally participants entered the Wisconsin capitol building to lobby Governor Walker and members of the Wisconsin legislature, demanding they refocus on creating well-paying jobs, and stop enacting anti-woman measures as distractions from economically-focused legislation.
Add this to the good news/bad news mix from the Supreme Court's healthcare decision: Because of the good news (Chief Justice Roberts voted to uphold the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act), we get the bad news that his standing among the nation's Democrats has significantly increased. This collective amnesia about who John Roberts is and what he has done is disturbing, especially since the direction of the Court is one of the most important issues upon which Democrats should be voting in November.
A new Gallup Poll shows wild fluctuations in Democrats and Republicans' assessment of Chief Justice John Roberts since their last poll in 2005, a change Gallup attributes to his role in upholding the Affordable Care Act. Roberts' approval rating among Republicans has plummeted 40 percentage points from 2005, falling from 67% to 27%. In contrast, his favorability among Democrats has risen from 35% to 54%. That the healthcare decision is a catalyst of this change is supported by a PEW Research Center poll last week showing that between April and July, approval of the Supreme Court dropped 18 points among Republicans and rose 12% among Democrats.
Yes, John Roberts upheld the ACA, but only as a tax. At the same time, he agreed with his four far right compatriots that it fell outside the authority granted Congress by the Commerce Clause, leaving many observers concerned that he has set traps designed to let the Court later strike down congressional legislation that should in no way be considered constitutionally suspect. He also joined the majority that restricted Congress's constitutional authority under the Spending Clause to define the contours of state programs financed with federal funds.
Just as importantly, Roberts's upholding the ACA does not erase the past seven years, during which he has repeatedly been part of thin conservative majority decisions bending the law beyond recognition in order to achieve a right wing political result. John Roberts cast the deciding vote in a number of disastrous decisions, including those that:
Oh, and then there's that little 5-4 Citizens United opinion that has upended our nation's electoral system and put our government up to sale to the highest bidder.
With a rap sheet like that – and this is hardly a complete a list – no one should be under the illusion that John Roberts is anything but a right-wing ideologue using the Supreme Court to cement his favorite right-wing policies into law.
Next term, Roberts is expected to lead the judicial front of the Republican Party's war against affirmative action and the Voting Rights Act. Whether he succeeds may depend on whether it is Mitt Romney or Barack Obama who fills the next vacancy on the Supreme Court.
Yesterday, the Republican National Committee released a web ad featuring the voice of Solicitor General Donald Verrilli haltingly defending the Affordable Care Act. After saying that “For more than 80 percent of Americans, the, ah, insurance system does provide effective access,” Verrilli trails off, coughing and stuttering for an incredibly long time.
But as Bloomberg News revealed, the awkward silence isn’t credible. It’s entirely doctored. In the actual audio of the case, Verrilli pauses only briefly before continuing “But for more than 40 million who do not have access to health insurance, either through their employer or through government programs such as Medicare or Medicaid, the system does not work.
Tom Goldstein of SCOTUSblog calls it “the single most classless and misleading thing I’ve ever seen related to the Court,” and he’s right. But it shouldn’t come as any surprise that this is the tack taken by the GOP. From day one, Republicans decided that the best way to oppose President Obama’s health care reform agenda was by lying about it. Whether it’s about death panels, rationed care or the Solicitor General’ performance before the Supreme Court, Republicans have made clear that there’s no lie they won’t tell in order to damage the president and frustrate his agenda.
After the Citizens United decision, we’ve seen outside groups pushing sleazy “Swift Boat” style attack ads. The fact that the RNC itself chose to push such a blatant lie only underscores how comfortable with dishonesty--and how desperate--the party has become.
Republican leaders, including presidential contenders who hope to lead the party, should renounce these dishonest attacks.
PFAW Senior Fellow Jamie Raskin went on Fox News last night to discuss the Supreme Court oral arguments on the Affordable Care Act with Sean Hannity and the American Center for Law & Justice’s Jay Sekulow. Unsurprisingly, Sen. Raskin didn’t get much time to make his case before he was hit with a wave of faux outrage from Sekulow and Hannity.
The subject of the outrage? Sen. Raskin had called some of the conservative justices’ questions “weak” – which somehow for Sekulow turned into “attacking the integrity of justices of the United States.”
The conversation starts about five minutes into this clip:
Sekulow’s attempt at outrage is rather stunning, since his organization, the ACLJ, exists in a large part to rail against the motivations – or, if you will, the “integrity” -- of judges and justices with whom he disagrees. When the 9th Circuit ruled in favor of marriage equality, he slammed it as “another example of an activist judiciary that overreached.” When the Senate was considering then-appeals court judge Sonia Sotomayor for her seat on the Supreme Court, Sekulow said, "To call her a judicial activist is an insult to judicial activists."
Sekulow has every right to criticize justices and judges with whom he disagrees. But he doesn’t exactly have the high ground for slamming those who offer mild criticism of questions conservative justices ask in oral arguments.
For more on Jamie Raskin’s analysis of the health care case, read his piece in the Huffington Post yesterday.