Supreme Court to American Public: Corporations Are Your New Gods
"Some animals are more equal than others.” - George Orwell, Animal Farm
According to the Supreme Court’s logic, corporations are now not only people, but they’re people with inalienable religious rights. And if a closely-held corporation – in which 50 percent of the shares are controlled by five or fewer people – decides to impose religion on its workers, employees have the choice of either going along with it or quitting. Essentially, corporations are our new gods.
In Justice Samuel Alito’s argument on behalf of the all-male Supreme Court majority, the ruling won't allow companies to refuse coverage of blood transfusions, organ transplants or vaccinations on a religious basis. But it does mean the Supreme Court is selectively only upholding the rights of “Christian” corporations, violating the First Amendment’s established freedoms of and from religion clauses.
Monday's decision also means the Supreme Court is actively singling out – and discriminating against – women in need of contraception. Never mind that 762,000 women on birth control have never had sex, or that birth control pills are also sometimes necessary for basic reproductive healthcare.
Hobby Lobby isn’t really a “Christian” corporation. As Mother Jones reports, the company has long been invested in the manufacturer of contraceptives. Hobby Lobby also imports 90 percent of its goods from China, which has a long-established policy of forced abortions for families who bear more than one child. Hobby Lobby only had a problem with contraceptives when the Affordable Care Act required it to provide coverage for women’s healthcare.
In Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s 35-page dissent, she notes how low-income women will be disproportionately impacted by the lack of reproductive health coverage. One intrauterine device (IUD), which is used to prevent pregnancies over a long-term period, costs the same as an entire month’s pay at minimum wage. Fifty-eight percent of women on birth control use it for purposes other than preventing pregnancy, like menstrual cycle regulation or lessening the pain of menstrual cramps. Without contraceptive coverage from their employer, women will be forced to either go broke, risk pregnancy or further endanger their reproductive systems.
Justice Ginsburg’s dissent also states the ruling can be interpreted so broadly that any corporation can choose to opt out of any law based on “religious beliefs.” It can also be interpreted by some corporations to impose their religion on workers, whether it be Christianity, Islam, Hinduism or even Satanism. If a corporation made female workers wear a Muslim hijab, or stop work at every prayer call for workers to face East, the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby ruling gives them that right.
A corporation owned by Rastafarians could theoretically make workers meditate while entheogenically using cannabis. This ruling will essentially allow the 90 percent of corporations in America classified as “closely-held” to turn workplaces into theocracies.
A dangerous precedent has been established with the new inception of religious rights for corporations. The Supreme Court has stated that a boss’s religion can now trump workers’ rights to be free from religion. That this decision was handed down the same day as the Harris v. Quinn decision – which turned all unionized home-care physicians into “right-to-work” employees – means the Supreme Court is actively seeking to disenfranchise women, workers and low-income families not only by undermining their economic stability but by stripping them of their basic First Amendment rights.
The majority opinion in Harris v. Quinn, also written by Justice Alito, made room for unions to be further dismantled in the future if the court chooses to do so.
Corporations, which have always been artificial entities, are now treated the same as – and even better than – flesh-and-blood human beings, thanks to the court of Chief Justice John Roberts. For four decades, the Supreme Court sided with corporations just 50 percent of the time. But since 2011, corporations have won an alarming 88 percent of all Supreme Court cases. And the court is showing no signs of slowing down.
However, if we want to stop the rapid erosion of actual people’s rights in favor of increased privileges for corporate “persons,” there’s already historical precedent for a nuclear option.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal, which created badly-needed jobs for out-of-work Americans in the midst of the Great Depression, was torn apart piece-by-piece by an extreme, conservative court. FDR became adamant in imposing new rules that would stack the Supreme Court with an additional justice for every justice over age 70, saying the conservative majority was too old and out of touch with the American people. And because nothing in the U.S. Constitution limits the number of justices to nine, FDR’s proposal wasn’t unconstitutional. The court responded to the threat by slowly reinstating the pieces of the New Deal it had overturned.
If President Obama threatened a similar course of action, there could presumably be 13 justices instead of nine – adding a new justice for Ginsberg, Stephen Breyer, Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy. And instead of corporations scoring big wins over citizens in a series of 5-4 decisions, an 8-5 majority might undo everything from Burwell v. Hobby Lobby to Citizens United v. FEC, McCutcheon v. FEC – and even Buckley v. Valeo and Union Pacific Railroad v. Santa Clara County, which originally established the concept of corporate personhood.
Obama could also call for the impeachment of Justice Clarence Thomas, given Thomas’s refusal to recuse himself over decisions relating to the Affordable Care Act, in which his wife was a consultant for groups seeking to stop the bill from becoming law. This, however, would require a two-thirds vote from the Senate rather than Obama taking unilateral action.
Either way, action must be taken soon before our country becomes a corporate theocracy. The Supreme Court has clearly overstepped its bounds.