Are religious exemptions to discrimination laws, in areas like foster care, adoption, higher education, and government contract compliance, an “assault on LGBTQ rights”? Cato has now reprinted my comments last month for a House Oversight Committee hearing on that subject. The hearing itself (at which I was not a witness) can be viewed here.
Two big stories yesterday at the Supreme Court about the much-contested crossroads of discrimination law and religious exemption. In one, the Court “agreed to review a challenge to Philadelphia’s policy of excluding Catholic Social Services from its foster care system because of its refusal to place children with same-sex couples.” It’s not quite the case some readers will expect, though:
Note that Philadelphia was enforcing a local ordinance of its own making; the case is thus on a very different footing than if it were, say, a challenge to the Obama-era regulations (which HHS has since proposed to rescind) that tried to arm-twist all states and cities into adopting policies like Philadelphia’s. In the HHS episode, it was the liberal side of the controversy that was trying to impose a uniform standard from coast to coast; in this case, it is some conservative religious groups that hope to do that. Scott Shackford has more in a piece at Reason quoting my views, as does the Christian Science Monitor in a piece last week.
In the other case, Justice Samuel Alito, joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch, called on the Court to revisit a 1977 precedent in which it interpreted federal employment discrimination law so as not to require employers to accommodate workers’ religious beliefs if doing so would involve more than de minimis cost or disruption. Back then, it was mostly liberals who wanted a standard less favorable to employers than that; since then many liberals and conservatives have swapped places on the issue. The full piece is here.
- Court grants review of two cases, likely to be among the term’s more important for business, to clarify the limits of state court personal jurisdiction when none of defendants’ actions relevant to the dispute took place in the state [Jim Beck on Ford Motor Co. v. Bandemer (Minnesota) and Ford Motor Co. v. Montana Eighth Judicial District Court]
- From Peace Cross to Espinoza: where religious exercise and the Establishment Clause are headed in the Roberts Court [Federalist Society conference panel video and transcript with Stephanie Barclay, Luke Goodrich, Micah Schwartzman, and William P. Marshall, moderated by the Hon. Carlos Bea] “Conservatives want courts to consider the governments’ bigoted motives in enacting anti-Catholic Blaine amendments, but not when it comes to Trump’s travel ban. Liberals tend to be inconsistent in the opposite way.” [Ilya Somin]
- Federal law forbids attorneys and advocates to “encourage” an alien to reside unlawfully in the U.S. Spot the First Amendment problem with that [Ilya Shapiro and Michael Collins on Cato merits amicus brief in case of U.S. v. Sineneng-Smith]
- “The Supreme Court Should Continue To Defend Arbitration” [my new post with Ilya Shapiro and Dennis Garcia on Cato Institute certiorari brief in OTO, LLC v. Kho]
- What Martin Van Buren had to say in his memoirs concerning James Madison, Bushrod Washington, and Chancellor James Kent [Gerard Magliocca, Prawfsblawg]
- Is the Ninth the most overturned circuit? Checking the numbers [Adam Feldman, Empirical SCOTUS]
- Search and seizure: “How Long Does the Third Party Doctrine Have Left?” [Cato Daily Podcast with Billy Easley II and Caleb Brown, earlier]
- Did the Supreme Court err in Employment Division v. Smith when it ruled that the Free Exercise Clause provides no exemption from burdens on religious conscience resulting from neutral and generally applicable laws? [Federalist Society Rosenkranz Debate with Michael McConnell and Philip Hamburger] Will the Court revisit Employment Division, as four Justices (Alito, Thomas, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh) recently suggested? [Eric Baxter on Ricks v. Idaho Contractors Board]
- Maryland: “Don’t suspend drivers’ licenses over fines/fees unrelated to road safety” [my new Free State Notes]
- “A motley group of powerful companies have their knives out for Section 230, which shields platforms from lawsuits over content posted by users.” [David McCabe, New York Times; Gigi Sohn on Twitter]
- Did U.S. Customs destroy an African musician’s uniquely crafted instrument, or was it damaged in transit? Stories differ [Isobel van Hagen and Sarah Kaufman, NBC News; earlier here, here, here, etc.]
- R.I.P. David N. Mayer, emeritus professor at Capital Law and constitutional scholar who did important work on the views of the Founders and on the Contracts Clause [Roger Pilon, Cato]
- Another Emoluments suit fizzles for lack of standing, as I predicted three years ago [Megan Mineiro, Courthouse News (suit on behalf of individual members of Congress); sage advice from Grover Norquist]
Claims for accommodation of religious conscience are not inherently a “right” or “left” phenomenon, any more than is religion itself. That’s an old story — in case anyone had forgotten the sides Justices Brennan and Scalia took on the constitutional angle — but it comes to mind once more with an Arizona federal court’s decision in favor of four liberal believers moved to violate federal law out of sympathy for persons illegally crossing the southwest border. David French, The Dispatch:
Using RFRA [the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, oft a target of liberal wrath in recent years], it overturned the convictions of four people affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Church who were prosecuted for “violations of the regulations governing the Cabeza Prieta Wildlife Refuge.” The defendants were convicted after entering the refuge without the necessary permits and “leaving supplies of food and water in an area of desert wilderness where people frequently die of dehydration and exposure.”
Questions of entitlement to religious exemption and accommodation from otherwise applicable law are best decided according to impartial principle, not on the basis of which team stands to benefit in the case at hand.
- Lenawee County, Mich. authorities have posted condemnation notices on Old Order Amish farmhouses over their use of outhouses rather than modern septic systems as required by code. Dispute now heading for court [Tom Henry, Toledo Blade]
- Baltimore Mayor Young promotes white-van-abduction urban legends, police misconduct transparency, Montgomery County is watching drivers and more in my latest Maryland policy roundup [Free State Notes]
- Following outcry from activists, Facebook disables as misleading ads some trial lawyer ads soliciting plaintiffs to sue over purported side effects of HIV prevention drugs [Tony Romm, Washington Post/Toronto Star, Peter Lawrence Kane, The Guardian, WTHR]
- From Lowering the Bar, legal things that actually did happen in 2019;
- 20 years ago I warned that by trying to dictate employers’ choices, a Wisconsin law might work to impede convict re-entry into the job market rather than encourage it [Reason, from its archives]
- If county and city law enforcement officials have discretion not to charge low-level drug offenders, do they also have discretion not to charge low-level gun offenders? [Cam Edwards, National Review on Virginia battle over “Second Amendment sanctuary” resolutions]
- New federal bill seeks middle ground on LGBT discrimination law and religious accommodation [Kelsey Dallas/Deseret News, “Fairness For All” coalition, sponsor Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT) on bill] Early criticism from left and right [Daniel Silliman, Christianity Today; Katelyn Burns, Vox] The impulse to get past Culture War enmities is to be praised, even if, alas, some of the bill’s provisions would extend the coercive reach of federal law in ways libertarians would oppose;
- Third Circuit panel, Judge Thomas Hardiman writing, rules in favor of atheist group challenging Pennsylvania county’s rejection of bus ads. Creates split with D.C. Circuit [Charles Gallmeyer, Jurist; Hemant Mehta; Northeastern Pennsylvania Freethought Society v. County of Lackawanna Transit System]
- “Eighth Circuit holds that videographers have First Amendment free speech right to refuse to provide services at same-sex weddings” [Joseph Singer, KNSI (Minnesota); Telescope Media Group v. Lucero] Update on Sweet Cakes by Melissa case in Oregon [Adam Gustafson, Federalist Society; earlier] Federalist Society teleforum on Brush & Nib case [Phoenix wedding calligraphy] with Eric M. Fraser, Jennifer Perkins, and Jonathan Scruggs, and earlier;
- And speaking of which: SCOTUS should resolve “expressive wedding vendor” issue once and for all [Ilya Shapiro and Michael Collins on Cato certiorari brief in (latest stage of) Arlene’s Flowers v. Washington, noting that “Cato is the only organization in the country to have filed briefs in support of both Jim Obergefell (lead plaintiff in the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage case) and Jack Phillips (owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop)”; earlier]
- Article takes issue with currently popular idea that claims of harm to third parties should routinely defeat claims to religious accommodation [Mark Storslee, University of Chicago Law Review/SSRN]
- “Top Scholars, Diverse Religious Groups Ask SCOTUS to Reconsider Employment Division v. Smith — Again” [Joseph Davis, Becket/Federalist Society on certiorari petition in Ricks v. Idaho Board of Contractors]
New York bans the operation of adoption agencies that will not serve customers of all sexual and gender orientations and conditions of wedlock, whether or not such agencies receive any public funds or contracts. New Hope Family Services, a ministry that works with expectant mothers to place their newborns, has agreed to stop accepting new clients and now the question is whether it can go on servicing pending and completed placements. New York state is arguing no, but a Second Circuit panel of Judges José Cabranes, Reena Raggi, and Edward Korman has granted a preliminary injunction pending consideration of the agency’s First Amendment claims: “the strong public interest pertaining to adoption services, i.e., the welfare of children, both those already adopted and those awaiting adoption, is best served by granting rather than denying the requested injunction.” [ruling in New Hope Family Services v. Poole; Emma Folts/Daily Orange, Julie McMahon/Syracuse.com, Nicole Russell, Washington Examiner quoting me; my related WSJ piece on recent Western District of Michigan decision]
A new HHS plan to rescind LGBT bias rules would back the feds away from one of the most hotly contested frontiers of the culture wars, the role of religious agencies in foster care and adoption. I explain in a new Cato post.
The full Cato Supreme Court Review for the 2018-19 term can be read here, with an introduction by Trevor Burrus. Among this year’s highlights: Michael McConnell on the Maryland Peace Cross case and government-sponsored religious symbols, Bruce Kobayashi and Joshua Wright on the Apple indirect-purchaser antitrust case, Braden Boucek on the Tennessee liquor Commerce Clause case, and Simon Lecturer George Will on “The Insufficiently Dangerous Branch.”
Or listen to a Cato audio with Trevor Burrus, Ilya Shapiro, and Caleb Brown: