Supreme Court Ruling Affirms Hobby Lobby Victory

The court ruled Monday in a case asking whether family-owned businesses that offer employees health insurance must include contraception in their plans if they object to some forms of it.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And a divided Supreme Court delivered another rebuke to the Obama administration today. It came in the most closely watched case of the year, which challenged the requirement that most employers include coverage for birth control in the health insurance they supply to their workers. The craft store chain Hobby Lobby and other companies challenged that requirement, saying they have a religious objection to at least some forms of birth control. In a 5 to 4 decision this morning, the high court sided with the companies. NPR's Nina Totenberg joins us now. Good morning.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Now, what did the court rule in this really important case?

TOTENBERG: Justice Samuel Alito wrote the decision for the court, saying that for-profit, closely held companies do have the right to exercise their religious beliefs even if it means that their beliefs will impose certain restrictions on their employees. Here, the employees of Hobby Lobby - some 16,000, for example - will not have access to certain kinds of contraceptives that the owners view as abortifacients. So Justice Alito said that the issue is not the size of the company, but the fact that it's a closely held corporation because if the closely held corporation were required to do what the Obamacare law requires, it would be put to a cruel choice between its religious beliefs and having a business that is a thriving business. And he went on to say that if HHS, the Health and Human Services Department, and the Obama administration thinks this is so important, they can devise, for closely held corporations, the same solution that they did for nonprofit religious corporations.

MONTAGNE: What, though - Hobby Lobby, at - what? - 16,000 employees is not a small business. So what is the distinction here, between closely held companies and all the rest of the for-profit world?

TOTENBERG: Well, closely held companies are held by nobody other than these particular owners. They don't have shareholders. But some of the largest corporations in America are closely held corporations - Cargill, Dell, Heinz, Dole Foods, the Koch brothers, who make everything from toilet paper to - you know, to electric utilities, I think - Publix markets, Ernst & Young, which is one of the big accounting companies - Amway, Toys-R-Us, Hilton, Bloomberg - you get the point.

MONTAGNE: Yeah, so the people at the top have these beliefs and there's very few of them. And that makes it closely held.

TOTENBERG: Yes.

MONTAGNE: And what did Ruth Ginsburg - Justice Ginsburg write in her dissent?

TOTENBERG: She - in one of those rare, spoken dissents from the bench - she said that this decision was compromising our whole notion of who we are as a country. And she pointed out that this particular decision is based on a statute, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. And she said it couldn't be based on the First Amendment because the court had decided long ago that you couldn't do this under the First Amendment. And she said that Congress, in passing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, never intended this kind of a broad result in which, she said, the employees of a company would be - would suffer all kinds of consequences. And she said it present all kinds of what-about-me questions. What about owners who don't believe in immunization or blood transfusions or using medical products that have pork in them? So she opened up a lot of questions that the dissenters didn't prevail on.

MONTAGNE: Nina, thank you very much.

TOTENBERG: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Nina Totenberg.

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