Thursday, March 27, 2014

About the Hobby Lobby Case: A Lawyer's Rant

While I don't hide the fact that I am a lawyer in this blog, I tend to shy away from making legal arguments here because this blog is for fun, and work is. . .well. . .work.  That said, the recent Hobby Lobby case in front of the Supreme Court is the perfect mix of politics, law and hypocrisy to piss me off.  It is also a classic example of why the study of Constitutional law is completely and utterly ludicrous (something any law student can tell you within the first 2 weeks of taking Con Law).

For those of you who don't know, the Hobby Lobby case is this - Hobby Lobby is a closely held corporation owned by deeply "religious" people.  As part of their "deeply held religious beliefs" the owners of Hobby Lobby believe that oral contraceptives (the birth control pill) abort fetuses. ***NOTE*** Birth control pills work by preventing ovulation, thus preventing fertilization. They do abort anything.***

Because of this "deeply held" but mistaken belief, Hobby Lobby does not want its health insurer to pay for birth control pills for its employees. This is a problem because under the Affordable Care Act, insurers are required to pay for birth control pills.  This policy isn't a "let's abort every baby" policy, but rather reflects the fact that VIRTUALLY EVERY WOMAN IN AMERICA (99%) TAKES BIRTH CONTROL PILLS DURING SOME POINT IN THEIR LIVES.  But Hobby Lobby has a "deeply held" belief, and argues that forcing it to pay for birth control pills for its employees violates its constitutional right of religious choice.  So the issue in front of the Supreme Court is whether or not a corporation has the freedom of religion.

Now, we could go into the obvious questions such as how a corporation, by definition a non-person, can have a conscience and make religious decisions.  We could also ask how a corporation can prove that it has such beliefs.  The priests and ministers I know don't have the power to baptize corporate documents.  But those are easy questions to ask.

Instead, let me put forth a hypothesis based on the facts of this case - let's say there was a corporation that was closely held, like Hobby Lobby, but instead of "Christians," let's say the owners of this corporation were Rastafarians. Now, Rastafarianism believes that marijuana use is really important.  Healthy even.  So this company, founded on Rastafarian principles, decides to grow marijuana and sell marijuana to practitioners of Rastafarianism.  Does the fact that this company believes that marijuana is good for you prevent it from prosecution under federal law?

Ah. Hell. No. 

And do you know why? Because marijuana is deemed by Congress to be illegal and is scheduled as an dangerous drug. Now, say what you will about that decision (and I believe marijuana should be legalized), but the legal principle is key here - the Feds would wait about 10 seconds before crushing my hypothetical company.  Every judge, from the District Court, to the Circuit Courts, to the Supreme Court would laugh their asses off at the argument that Congress' laws about marijuana violate the company's freedom of religion because Congress made a factual determination that marijuana is bad for you and should be illegal. Case closed.

But in the Hobby Lobby case, there is a factual finding that birth control pills, which again, ARE TAKEN BY 99% OF ALL WOMEN IN THE UNITED STATES AT SOME POINT IN THEIR LIVES, are important to the health and welfare of women, and should be covered by their health insurance, which was also made by Congress, is being challenged. And whereas the ban on marijuana is based on questionable science, the decision to force health insurance companies to cover birth control is based, again, on the undeniable fact that BIRTH CONTROL PILLS ARE AN IMPORTANT TOOL IN WOMEN'S HEALTH

Naturally, the conservatives on the Supreme Court are almost certainly going to vote in favor of Hobby Lobby, despite the fact that Hobby Lobby is a) a corporation; b) its views on the effects of birth control pills on a woman's body are completely wrong; c) its views directly contravene Congressional and/or administrative findings of fact (which are supposed to get deference by the Court); and d) individuals who brought cases to the Supreme Court to kill civil rights legislation, drug testing policies, and other neutral laws all uniformly lost. 

And here is where my rant really begins. The whole "balls and strikes" analogy made by John Roberts in his nomination testimony was bullshit. Not kinda bullshit, not sort of bullshit, but total and complete bullshit. The whole study of Constitutional Law is total and complete bullshit.  And that's because if the study of the Constitutional Law goes any way other than "its whatever the Nine Justices decide," it makes no sense. A decision to uphold Hobby Lobby's "freedom of religion" contravenes Scalia's originalism, contravenes stare decisis (where the Court is supposed to follow its older rulings), is based upon A FALLACIOUS FINDING OF FACT and creates an entirely new right of supposedly nonreligious organizations to have religion. Why? Because they get to. As I said, total and complete bullshit.

Now, I could be wrong. I might be surprised by the Supreme Court Justices, and they might actually do the right thing here.  But I doubt it. And as someone who is supposed to be an officer of the Court, it pisses me off.  Case law is supposed to be more that whatever the hell the Supreme Court says it is. It's supposed to be logical, reasoned, and cautious.  It's supposed to fit together in some kind of homogenized mesh.  But even when it can't be, when the Court has to do something out of the ordinary, the Court is supposed to protect the rights of individuals.  Not individual corporations, but actual living and breathing people, like the women who are going to have to pay for birth control because Hobby Lobby opposes the idea of them. Oh, and because Hobby Lobby opposes birth control, can it now fire employees for using birth control? Or, how about firing all women of child-bearable age who are not currently pregnant because they might be taking birth control? Or can Augusta National now go back to discriminating against women and African Americans because of its "sincerely held beliefs?"

The whole thing is ridiculous, wrong-headed, and bullshit. Total bullshit.

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