Today the Supreme Court issued its last two opinions of the term. Justice Alito delivered both opinions, and both were decided on 5-4 votes. Both decisions were eagerly awaited. In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the Court ruled that as applied to closely held corporations, the the contraceptive mandate imposed on employers by Obamacare violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. In Harris v. Quinn, the Court held that the First Amendment prohibits the collection of an “agency fee” to pay for union activities from home health care workers who do not want to join or support the union.
Both of these cases have been viewed as highly significant; Harris, for example, has been characterized as a potential death blow to the union movement. We will have more to say about these decisions after having had an opportunity to study the opinions, but my preliminary impression is that in both cases, the Court ruled narrowly. For example, it did not reach Hobby Lobby’s First Amendment arguments, and it applied Harris only to home health care workers who work for the people they care for, and not to “full-fledged” public employees. It may be that neither is as much a landmark decision as conservatives had hoped, or as liberals had feared.
UPDATE: To say that today’s decisions were narrowly-based may understate the case. Noted appellate lawyer Mark Arnold writes, about Hobby Lobby:
A meaningless decision. The less restrictive alternative that the majority settled on is a certification by Hobby Lobby that it opposes contraceptive coverage, after which the insurance company must provide that coverage for free. Meaning that the premium charged to Hobby Lobby will necessarily include the cost of the free contraception. All smoke and mirrors.