BY LINDA BENTLEY | JULY 2, 2014
SCOTUS issues foursome of important opinions
Two unanimous and two split
WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court of the United States issued four opinions this term by handing down what many say are important victories for religious freedom, the pro-life movement and free speech while dealing a blow to public sector unions and President Obama’s executive power overreach.
A unanimous court agreed in National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning that Obama exceeded his executive power set by the Constitution by filling vacancies on the NLRB through recess appointments when the Senate was not in recess and invalidated the appointments.
The justices also unanimously agreed in McCullen v. Coakley that a Massachusetts law declaring a 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics prohibited free speech and violated the First Amendment.
The law targeted “sidewalk counselors” who attempted to get women entering into abortion clinics to explore other options.
Harris v. Quinn ended with a divided 5-4 court, along ideological lines, with Justices Stephen G. Bryer, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor dissenting, in favor of home health care workers, who, in Illinois, were forced to pay union dues to the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which used those dues for political influence.
The SEIU argued the home health care workers were receiving the benefit of increased wages through its negotiations with the state and should pay dues accordingly.
The home health care workers were considered by the court to be only “partial government employees,” as they did not report to a government office and did not report to a government supervisor.
The majority agreed with the workers who argued they shouldn’t have to fund the ideology of an organization to which they disagree and said the dues mandate violates their First Amendment rights.
The decision, however, did not address public sector unions in general, only home health care workers who receive Medicaid funds to care for people, often family members, in their homes.
Another 5-4 split Supreme Court, also along the same ideological lines, ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby, a corporation owned by the Green family, who are Christian, in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, who claimed being mandated to provide abortion-inducing products or drugs with their employees’ health insurance plans was a violation of their religious beliefs.
The case did not seek to ban birth control products, only post-conception, abortion-inducing products.
Nor did Hobby Lobby’s owners try to restrict employees from buying or using such products; they simply did not want to provide items through company-provided insurance that violates their religious beliefs and freedom of conscience.
The majority opinion was narrowly tailored in that it applies only to closely-held corporations where there is virtually no distinguishing between the owners and the corporation, and left open the idea that the government could have a compelling interest in mandating abortion coverage.