The Supreme Court should hand down its ruling in the Hobby Lobby case Wednesday, Thursday or Monday. The New Republic has a rundown of some of the possible outcomes if the court rules in favor of the company. As is often the case, much will depend on how broad or narrow the ruling is.
If the Court rules in favor of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga, the implications will depend on the scope of the Court’s ruling. They could apply the decision narrowly to family-owned or so-called “closely held” companies (which have a limited number of shareholders) like Hobby Lobby, which has 16,000 full time employees. Or they could also encompass all privately held companies, which would apply to corporations such as Dell Inc., owned by Michael Dell.
I didn’t even know that was at issue. I thought the ruling would automatically apply to all for-profit companies, but the court could well make a distinction between a closely held company owned by an individual or a family and publicly held companies that have lots and lots of “owners.”
Some of the other possible variables:
2. Employers could seek exemptions to coverage of other types of medical care based on personal religious beliefs. For example, Jehovah’s Witness owners could request an exemption from providing coverage for blood transfusions, since the treatment goes against the religion’s belief system. These exemption requests would likely be assessed on a case-by-case basis, Sobel said.
3. This decision could allow companies to deny other types of benefits to employees based on religious beliefs. For instance, gay rights groups fear that a pro-Hobby Lobby decision could lead to companies denying spousal benefits to same-sex couples. In February, the Arizona state legislature passed a law that would allow businesses to restrict service to gay customers based on the business’s religious beliefs. The statute was vetoed by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer after heavy lobbying from Arizona business leaders, Democrats, and Republicans, but Mississippi passed a similar law in April. “It depends how the Court crafts the decision to see how far that door is open, how many people can bring lawsuits, and if it’s at the federal or state level,” Sobel said.
That last part is a real danger. If they issue a broad ruling that for-profit companies are covered under RFRA, I would anticipate two outcomes: 1) state legislatures will begin amending their laws to allow religious exemptions from anti-discrimination laws as well; and 2) companies will begin filing suits to get exemptions from both state and federal anti-discrimination laws. This would essentially gut the Civil Rights Act. Anyone can claim a religious exemption that would allow them to discriminate on the basis of gender, race or religion. Whether the courts would later grant such exemptions is an open question, of course. I actually doubt that they would. But it would open up a floodgate of such suits.