Burwell v. Hobby Lobby

Posted: January 3, 2015 by beguide in case summaries
Tags: ,

Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Full Decision

WHAT HAPPENED: Geez, where do even start. Burwell is a government official tasked with defending the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, which required, amongst many other things, that employers provide contraceptive care for its employees. Hobby Lobby is a closely held corporation, despite having many stores throughout the country and hundreds of employees and Hobby Lobby, the entity, claimed that the ACA’s contraceptive requirement violated Hobby Lobby’s religious beliefs.

WHY IS THIS BEFORE THE SUPREME COURT: Hobby Lobby claimed that the ACA’s contraceptive mandate violated the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act, which is a federal statute that protects citizens from government action that infringes upon private religious beliefs. Under the RFRA, any law that infringes upon religious beliefs has to be the least restrictive method of accomplishing the government’s goal. The Court therefore had to determine whether or not (1) Hobby Lobby as a corporation had genuine religious beliefs, and (2) whether or not the ACA could require Hobby Lobby provide contraception in violation of those beliefs.

WHAT WAS THE RULING: The Court ruled 5-4 in favor of Hobby Lobby. Justice Alito wrote the majority opinion which stated that Hobby Lobby’s religious beliefs were protected by the RFRA and that the ACA was a violation of Hobby Lobby’s genuine religious beliefs. The decision first affirmed that Hobby Lobby, as a close corporation, possessed genuine religious beliefs based on existing precedent and the terms of the statute. Although the Court held that the government had a viable goal in providing birth control, the Court held that the existing contraceptive mandate, which put the cost and responsibility of providing contraception to employers, was not the least restrictive option. The dissenting opinion, written by Justice Ginsburg, threw white hot fire at the majority decision, holding that the Court was setting the stage for corporations to opt out of government laws based on religious beliefs, which drawn out to its hyperbolic conclusion, could lay the stage for wide-spread discrimination.

WHAT ARE THE RAMIFICATIONS OF THIS DECISION: This case would strike down the contraceptive mandate for other close corporations who, like Hobby Lobby, had genuinely held religious beliefs that contradicted their ability to provide birth control to employees. In a broader view, this decision set the stage for state RFRA laws which expanded upon the federal statute and led local Indiana Pizza Companies to believe they could start discriminating against same sex couples.

THE GOOD GUYS WON IF YOU: (1) are a closely held corporation that does not want to provide contraception to its employees, (2) believe in the transcendental consciousness of business entities, and/or (3) believe America is in the midst of a war on morality.

THE BAD GUYS WON IF YOU: (1) are the employee of a closely held corporation that does not want to provide contraception to its employees, (2) are a LGBT pizza enthusiast living in the heartland of America, and/or (3) are actively engaged in a war against morality.

WHO WAS RIGHT: Neither Brett or Nazim read this decision before the episode took place, so neither of them had the correct view of the decision going in. Brett was slightly more correct as to the scope of the opinion, so let’s give this one to him.


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