Tuesday, November 26, 2013

What are the Limits to Corporation Personhood?

     Breaking news out of Washington today: the Supreme Court will hear arguments in the cases of Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialists Corp v. SebeliusThe Court is set to examine whether provisions in the Affordable Care Act requiring companies to provide certain contraceptives in insurance policies violates First Amendment religious freedoms.      
     Hobby Lobby, a national crafts chain, is challenging the ACA stating that the law violates their religious freedoms to supply certain contraceptives to their employees. Hobby Lobby disagrees with contraception on religious principle.  In Conestoga, a Mennonite family who owns a for-profit company also disagrees with the contraceptive regulation on religious freedom grounds.  The major difference in these two cases is that the circuit courts ruled differently in each - the 10th Circuit ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby while the 3rd Circuit ruled in favor of the government against Conestoga Wood Specialists.  The big issue to focus on in these cases is corporate "personhood" and how this Court has ruled in relation to corporations.  Oral arguments are expected to be heard in March. 
     After the decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Court effectively ruled that corporations are people and are entitled to certain constitutional rights, in this case, freedom of speech.  The question concerning Hobby Lobby and Conestoga is, what are the limits to corporate personhood?  This Court has a proven track record of being very sympathetic to corporations. It is important to point out that the Court has been sympathetic to religious rights as well.  During this term, the Court heard oral arguments in the case of Town of Greece v. Galloway , which examined the role of prayer during government proceedings.  It seems that based on precedent, (Marsh v. Chambers), the Court will rule against the challengers of the prayer reading.  The precedent maintains that our nation has a long history of prayer oration at government proceedings and in this instance, it was not clear that the town of Greece, New York, favored any one religion during prayer readings.            
     The potential danger that these new cases pose is that they will set the stage for even more corporate rights over the individual's rights.  It seems today that corporations and the growing plutocracy already have an overbearing hold on our nation.  If corporations' constitutional rights are expanded, there is no telling what new problems may be produced in the future.  While  stipulations in the ACA do not force individuals to use/purchase contraception as a requirement for their insurance policies, the option is still there if they need/desire them.  If the Court rules against the government, contraception devices will be more difficult to access for financially burdened individuals.
     There is another possible outcome - the Court may decide not to rule at all after hearing arguments.  However, this is very unlikely given the fact that they decided to hear arguments and, as NBC News's Justice Correspondent Pete Williams stated, the fact that the appellate court made a change to a federal law (in the Hobby Lobby case) made it almost certain the High Court would review it.  Despite Chief Justice Roberts being the essential pivot vote on the constitutionality of the ACA the first time around, it is unlikely that he will come to the rescue again.  This is a totally different challenge focusing on a much different issue and given how the Court has ruled in the past, I would say it is likely that the Court will deal a blow to the already ailing ACA.     

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