Hobby Lobby case empowers millions of businesses to sue government, experts say
|By Jim Spencer, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
More than 200,000 of the state's companies confront that question after last week's
Legal scholars say the answer is still unclear. The decision lacked precise guidelines as to which businesses it covers, for example, or what qualifies as a religious belief.
The court's majority opinion "could lead to a lot of litigation and turmoil," said
Lawyers involved in the battle over government dictates, women's rights and religious liberty interpret the majority opinion differently.
"How many people are we talking about who want to work out their faith through their business?" he said.
Too many, countered
"One might have wished for a little more guidance," said
The biggest uncertainty is that the court said its decision applies only to "closely held" businesses. But in
For general legal purposes, however, a closely held business is defined not by how many people it employs but by the fact that it has a limited number of shareholders, offers no public market for its stock and its owners run day-to-day operations.
"Many closely held businesses are family businesses," said Kleinberger, who teaches a course on the subject and has written a law-review article on it. "But many are not. Nothing in this decision distinguishes."
The last state census of business ownership was 35 years ago. At that time, 98 percent of all the state's businesses were considered closely held, said
It is a flexible standard. The
Birth control and beyond
In an e-mail to the
"A lot more companies with religious beliefs will be able to sue under the decision," Olsen said. But most companies "don't allow personal religious beliefs to get in the way of making money."
Though he expects no flood of new litigation, Kaardal thinks the decision extends beyond birth control to other sincerely held principles of faith that may run counter to law or public policy.
Kleinberger agreed, but said that is only the first step.
"The decision says a small group of closely related people does not have their personal religious beliefs negated by forming a company," Kleinberger said. "Then, the analysis begins."
That analysis, carried out in courts, determines if a "compelling state interest" exists to keep the business owners from acting on their beliefs.
While Kaardal calls that "the exciting part of the decision," Borchelt sees it as "disturbing."
The court, she said, was "very deferential" in taking people's word about religious beliefs that could shield them from all sorts of government rules.
In dissenting from the 5-4 decision, Justice
She cited a 1985
The club's owners lost that case when the
More problematic are religiously rooted beliefs that could have an impact on employees' health. If owners of a closely held business don't believe in vaccinations for religious reasons, would they have to pay for that coverage in employees' health insurance? Ginsburg asked in her dissent.
"If giving you an [intrauterine device] is not required," Olsen reasoned, "giving you a vaccination is not required."
Kleinberger believes companies would have to pay.
"Even a genuine belief against vaccination has to yield to public health," he said. "No one has made an argument that the presence or absence of contraception is life-threatening."
(c)2014 the Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
Visit the Star Tribune (Minneapolis) at www.startribune.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services