Supreme Court finale makes busy day for IU legal, policy analysts

The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013-14 session ended with a bang on Monday, producing some frantic deadline analysis by Indiana University legal and policy experts.

The blockbuster decision — so called by Daniel Conkle of the IU Maurer School of Law in Bloomington — came in the Hobby Lobby case, in which businesses challenged a requirement in the Affordable Care Act regarding contraceptive services. The other decision announced Monday, in Harris v. Quinn, also could have big implications, in this case for labor unions.

Supreme Court Building

Supreme Court Building

Hobby Lobby

The court ruled 5-4 that closely held corporations can’t be required to provide employees with coverage for contraceptive services that their owners object to on religious grounds. The challenge to the provision of the Affordable Care Act was brought by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Products. IU experts shared thoughts in a tip sheet for news media:

  • Conkle said the decision was a “blockbuster” that, for the first time, recognized a right to religious freedom for profit-making companies. But he noted it was limited in scope, confined to family-owned businesses as opposed to publicly traded corporations.
  • Kosali Simon, a health policy analyst in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IU Bloomington, focused on questions of how the law and the court decision will affect women’s access to and use of contraceptive services.
  • Beth Cate, a SPEA legal expert, said it’s unclear how the decision will affect other religion-based challenges to the health care law. The court, she said, provided little guidance on how to balance corporation rights with the legitimate government interest.
  • Jennifer Drobac, professor in the IU McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis, speculated the decision, combined with the court’s 2010 Citizens United decision on campaign contributions, could fuel a push to amend the Constitution to define rights of corporations.
  • Debby Herbenick, co-director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at the IU School of Public Health-Bloomington, noted that access to contraception benefits men as well as women.
  • Sheila Suess Kennedy, professor in SPEA at IUPUI, blogged that the decision was “immensely wrong-headed” and suggested it’s part of a broader backlash against rights for women.

Harris v. Quinn

In the other opinion Monday, the court ruled 5-4 that home health workers can’t be forced to pay “fair share” fees to labor unions that represent them. The court stopped short of banning such fees for “full-fledged” public employees such as teachers or police officers.

But Kenneth Dau-Schmidt, a labor law expert in the IU Maurer School of Law, said the decision raises questions that will likely be answered by future litigation. “An important development in the court’s opinion was the treatment of public sector collective bargaining as political speech worthy of full First Amendment protection,” he said, suggesting the opinion chips away at the 80-year-old system of state and federal regulation of employee-union relationships.

IU experts were quoted in stories on the two Supreme Court decisions that appeared in The Guardian, The Indianapolis  Star, Indiana Public Media, The Wall Street Journal, Inc. magazine, The South Bend Tribune and elsewhere.

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