Burwell v. Hobby Lobby

Burwell v. Hobby Lobby

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Updated Jul 09, 2014 at 03:02PM EDT by Don.

Added Jun 30, 2014 at 02:02PM EDT by Molly Horan.

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Overview

Burwell v. Hobby Lobby is a United States Supreme Court case between the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell and Oklahoma-based arts and crafts store chain Hobby Lobby which examined whether closely held private corporations are required to cover the costs of contraception for female employees as part of the health care coverage mandated under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. In June 2014, the case became a heated topic of bipartisan debate in the social media after the Supreme Court ruled that family-owned corporations are exempt from such regulations under the protection of the U.S. Constitution and federal laws concerning religious freedom.

Background

On March 25th, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court began to hear arguments[2] from both sides in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Store and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius , the petitioners of which were later changed to Sylvia Burwell after her appointment as the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In the two cases, the Christian owners of the craft store and the Mennonite-run cabinet store, respectively, held that they should not be required to provide coverage for their employees’ contraception, including birth control pills, because contraception goes against their religious beliefs.

The Ruling

On June 30th, 2014, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the companies,[3] saying they wouldn’t be forced to cover birth control pills if it went against their religious beliefs, with five judges for the decision (Kennedy, Roberts, Scalia, Thomas and Alito) and four against it (Sotomayor, Kegan, Ginsburg and Breyer).

Implications

Legal experts and supporters of the contraption mandate say the potential consequences of the ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby could extend beyond the issue at hand to the point where companies could object against covering other medical procedures, like vaccination, blood transfusion and stem cell treatments, on religious grounds, not to mention its impact on safety and civil rights laws.

Notable Developments

Online Reaction

During the 24 hours leading up to the Supreme Court ruling, the hashtag #SCOTUS[4] was tweeted out over 94,000 times. On June 30th, after the ruling was given, the official Hobby Lobby Twitter account[5] sent out a tweet celebrating their victory. In less than 24 hours, the tweet received over 200 favorites and more than 200 retweets.



The same day several websites published articles explaining how readers could protest Hobby Lobby and the Supreme Court decision, including HyperVocal’s[6] “Life Hack: Make Feminist Art Using Hobby Lobby Products,” which suggests Hobby Lobby employees use their discounts to buy craft supplies to make feminist art to protest the anti-feminist ruling.

@SCOTUSblog

On the day of the ruling, many angry Twitter users mistook the Twitter account SCOTUSblog[8], a newsfeed run by the political blog with the same name, for an official account affiliated with the U.S. Supreme Court. As Buzzfeed[7] reported, the Twitter account began tweeting humorous responses to Twitter users who incorrectly directed their anger at the Supreme Court decision at @SCOTUSblog.



Ginsberg Dissent

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg produced a 19-page dissent against the supreme court ruling which was also released on June 30th. Several websites wrote guides and recaps of Ginsburg’s dissent including Gawker[9] and Mother Jones.[10] In addition to criticizing the ruling for allowing the religious beliefs of employers to be imposed upon their workers, Ginsberg warned against the legal precedent the ruling could set, saying:

“Would the exemption…extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah’s Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations[?]…Not much help there for the lower courts bound by today’s decision.”


On July 1st, YouTube’s “Song-A-Day” singer-songwriter Jonathan Mann uploaded a video of himself performing an acoustic folk song tribute to Ginsberg’s dissent, with the lyrics consisting of direct quotes from the letter.



Federal Judge’s Response

published his response to the decision on his personal blog[11] in which he criticized the Supreme Court for having failed to see the “passive virtues” of choosing not to decide on a controversial case even when it could’ve been avoided. Kopf was also quoted as saying:

“It is time for the Court to stfu.

In the first 72 hours, the blog post gained over 250 comments, with many arguing the merit of Kopf’s statements. On July 7th, Kopf published a letter[12] from an unnamed Nebraska attorney criticizing his use of profane language and asking him to shut down the blog for good. Kopf added that he would be seriously considering the request. In the coming days, several news sites published articles about the blog controversy, including The Huffington Post,[13]CNN,[14] The Daily Mail,[15]CNET[16] and The Blaze.[17]

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