The conservative legal movement obtained equally significant wins in a series of decisions involving religious freedom, simultaneously requiring that government treat religious institutions equally with nonsectarian ones and exempting religious entities or those with religious concerns from otherwise applicable rules, such as anti-discrimination laws.In one case, Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru, the court ruled that anti-discrimination statutes such as Title VII and the Americans With Disabilities Act do not apply to religious teachers at religiously affiliated schools — dramatically broadening an exemption that had previously applied to those in the role of “ministers.” In another case involving access to contraceptive coverage, Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania, the court held that the Trump administration could exempt employers with religious or even moral objections from the minor requirement that they notify their insurance providers about their objections to providing coverage.The court’s approach augured future wins to conservatives that will limit the scope of civil rights protections. For example, the court this year held that Title VII’s prohibition on job discrimination because of sex extends to gay and transgender workers. But the other rulings strongly indicate that the court will be wary about extending that protection in situations where employers claim religious objections.Even as the court expanded religious entities’ ability to opt out of anti-discrimination legislation, it widened the government’s obligation to provide public support for religious entities. In Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, the court, again in an opinion by Roberts, ruled that a program that provided scholarships for private schools had to make those scholarships equally available to religious schools.Previously, the court had held that a government program that provided help to private schools for playground resurfacing had to be made available to religious schools as well. The Montana case represented a dramatic expansion of requirements for direct funding of religious education, which the court said was mandated by the constitutional protection for free exercise of religion. The combined effect of the religion decisions is to require government support for institutions that are not required to comply with legal prohibitions on discrimination.Even in cases where the conservative argument lost, Republican politicians won. The court’s seemingly progressive decisions on social issues were electoral gifts to Republican politicians up for reelection. The public largely supports women’s ability to have an abortion, protection against deportation for the young immigrants known as “dreamers” and anti-discrimination rights for LGBTQ employees. The Supreme Court’s decisions on these issues prevent Republican politicians from having to defend unpopular rulings by Republican-appointed justices in the lead-up to the election.
Sunday, July 12, 2020
This was not a liberal Supreme Court Term
There's been a lot of commentary that the Supreme Court has shifted to the left with some decisions by Justices Roberts and Gorsuch. But as Leah Litman points out in this Washington Post commentary, that is wrong. Here's a portion of her piece: