“Expansive notion of corporate personhood”: Hobby Lobby decision on corporations asserting religious rights

The court’s expansive notion of corporate personhood invites for-profit entities to seek religion-based exemptions from regulations they deem offensive to their faiths. – Justice Ginsburg, dissenting.

June 30- The Supreme Court decided 5-4 that a for-profit corporation with a limited number of shareholders (but 13,000 employees) may assert a right of religion under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act to deny their employees coverage of health insurance that includes birth control. As usual, SCOTUSblog has links to the opinions and dissents (and there are several).

The ruling came in two companion cases, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties, Inc. v. Burwell.  Free Speech For People’s legal team, led by Ron Fein, filed a brief in the Conestoga case, and issued a statement following the decision:

The Supreme Court wisely refused to entertain the corporations’ claim that they have a constitutional right to ignore laws based on “corporate religion.” Unfortunately, the Court misinterpreted the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act as providing a massive corporate exemption to federal laws based on the religious beliefs of investors. While the Court attempted to limit its decision to health insurance coverage for contraception, and to assure the public that the decision would not extend to publicly-traded corporations, the decision opens the door to corporate claims for exemptions from federal civil rights, environmental, safety, and consumer protection laws. As Justice Ginsburg noted in a powerful dissent, the decision means that corporations can potentially “opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.” Since this ruling is based on a law that Congress passed, Congress could fix the problem legislatively. We urge Congress to close this loophole. Corporations aren’t people, but real people will suffer until this is fixed.

About Jeff Clements

Jeff Clements is co-founder and chair of the board of Free Speech for People, a national non-partisan campaign to overturn Citizens United v. FEC, challenge excessive corporate power, and strengthen American democracy and republican self-government. He co-founded Free Speech For People in 2010, after representing several public interest organizations with a Supreme Court amicus brief in the Citizens United case. Jeff has served as Assistant Attorney General and Chief of the Public Protection Bureau in the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office. As Bureau Chief, he led more than 100 staff in the enforcement of environmental, healthcare, financial services, civil rights, antitrust and consumer protection laws. In private practice, Jeff has been a partner at Mintz Levin in Boston, and in his own firm. Jeff also has served in leadership capacities on numerous boards, including that of the Portland Water District, a public agency responsible for protecting and delivering safe drinking water and ensuring proper treatment of wastewater for 160,000 people; Friends of Casco Bay, an environmental organization he co-founded with others to protect and enhance stewardship of Maine’s Casco Bay; and The Waldorf School in Lexington, Massachusetts. In 2012, Jeff co-founded Whaleback Partners LLC, which provides cost-effective capital to farmers and businesses engaged in local, sustainable agriculture. Jeff graduated with distinction in History and Government from Colby College in 1984, and magna cum laude from the Cornell Law School in 1988. He lives in Concord, Massachusetts with his wife and three children. Jeff Clements Twitter: @ClementsJeff Email: jclements@freespeechforpeople.org
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