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SCOTUS delivers blow to Obamacare, government unions

SCOTUSWASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Supreme Court delivered two major decisions on Monday that proponents of the Affordable Care Act and government union bosses will not be happy about.

The first case pit women’s rights groups against Hobby Lobby and other advocates for religious liberty.

Hobby Lobby argued that it should not have to comply with a provision of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, which mandated that employers provide health care coverage for contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs.

In a 5-4 opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito, the court held that the contraception mandate included in the ACA was a violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Antonin Scalia and Justice Clarence Thomas joined the majority opinion while Justice Anthony Kennedy filed a concurring opinion.

From ABC News:

The decision is a victory for the Green family that owns the Hobby Lobby arts and crafts chain and the Hahns who own Conestoga, a cabinet making company, who had challenged the so called contraceptive mandate saying it forced them to either violate their faith or pay ruinous fines. The government defended the provision as an essential part of health care coverage for women.

The court rejected the government’s claim that neither the owners nor the corporations could bring a religious liberty claim. “Protecting the free-exercise rights of corporations like Hobby Lobby, Conestoga … protects the religious liberty of the humans who own and control those companies,” Alito wrote.

Alito says the court has “little trouble” concluding that the HHS contraceptive mandate substantially burdens the exercise of region: “The Hahns and the Greens believe that providing the coverage demanded by the HHS regulation is connected to the destruction of an embryo in a way that is sufficient to make it immoral for them to provide the coverage.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, in a 35-page dissenting opinion, said the decision was one of “startling breadth” that would allow corporations to opt-out of any law “they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Other commentators pointed out that the ruling is relatively narrow and will not allow large, public corporations to avoid Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate.

The second major case, Harris v. Quinn, involved Pamela Harris, a home healthcare worker in Illinois who objected to paying mandatory “agency fees” to a government employee union. Although the decision does not free all state workers from the obligation to pay agency fees to the union, it will apply to similarly situated employees in other states.

From NationalJournal.com:

The issue at hand in Harris v. Quinn involves Pamela Harris, a home-caregiver in Illinois who takes care of her disabled son. Harris is among home caregivers who have decided not to unionize through the Service Employees International Union, opting instead to bargain directly with the Medicaid recipients who decide how much money to allocate to their caregivers.

The case posed a challenge to so-called “fair-play fees,” which allow unions to collect dues from employees who aren’t in the union but who still benefit from the bargains unions strike with employers.

In the case of public-sector unions, though, the employer is the government. And for that reason, the challengers in Harris argued, the unions’ collective bargaining is inherently a political activity—they’re essentially lobbying the government.

The challengers said allowing public-sector unions to collect fair-play fees is therefore requiring nonunion employees to support political activities they don’t necessarily agree with—a violation of their First Amendment rights.

Monday’s ruling means that hundreds of thousands of home caregivers—in Illinois and in other states—will be free to stop paying union membership dues, as they are effectively no longer considered public employees.

The decision amounts to a financial blow to government unions, which have in recent years sought to extract agency fees from most anyone receiving payments under Medicaid.

This story will be updated

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