Two Victories for the Right

Two Victories for the Right

There will be a lot of detailed commentary in the day ahead, but that seems to be the gist here. Samuel Alito wrote both opinions, with the other conservatives and Anthony Kennedy joining.

In Harris v. Quinn, the Court took up Illinois's policy of allowing home health-care workers to unionize as "public employees" -- and then requiring even non-members to pay dues (technically, "fees") -- despite the fact that these workers are not paid or managed directly by the state. (The state merely gives people money to spend on home health care.) The Court refused to apply a previous ruling to this particular circumstance, though it refrained from attacking public-sector unionism more broadly.

The previous ruling had held that, in the public sector, states could require non-members to pay union dues without violating the First Amendment, so long as employees had the option of receiving a discount for any money spent on explicitly political activity. The new ruling expresses deep skepticism about the previous one -- raising the possibility of a broader ruling in the future -- and at any rate finds that the major concerns of the old ruling (promoting labor peace, etc.) do not apply to "partial public employees" like home health-care workers.

In Hobby Lobby, meanwhile, the Court protected a corporation's right (under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act) to provide a health-insurance plan that does not cover birth control without paying massive penalties. The ruling is tailored to "closely held" corporations like Hobby Lobby, owned by specific people with strong religious beliefs. In fact, the Court seems to find the idea of a publicly traded company asserting a right to religious freedom rather fanciful.

[Update: Does the Hobby Lobby ruling have implications for Little Sisters, the other birth-control case? I take a look here.]

Robert VerBruggen is editor of RealClearPolicy. Twitter: @RAVerBruggen

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