Supreme Court Inches Corporate Rights Forward in Hobby Lobby

June 30, 2014

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., ruled 5-4 that closely-held, for-profit corporations may claim a religious exemption from providing employees with access to certain contraceptive coverage under federally mandated health insurance standards. The decision grants the corporations this right under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a federal statute that was designed to prevent the exercise of religion from being “substantially burdened” by federal law.

The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law released the following statement from Wendy Weiser, Director of the Democracy Program:

“Today the Supreme Court once again advanced the personhood rights of some corporations to the detriment of actual human beings. We disagree with the Court’s decision that certain for-profit corporations can exercise religious beliefs and are entitled to an exemption from their legal obligations. As a result of the decision, the costs these corporations can now avoid will be passed on to others. Fortunately, the Court did not expand upon Citizens United and decide the case on constitutional grounds. But we are still very concerned about the continued trend of corporations successfully asserting the rights of human beings, while injuring the interests of actual human beings.”

The Brennan Center submitted an amicus brief in the case urging the Court to deny the corporations’ demand for a religious exemption.

For more information or to set up an interview, please contact Naren Daniel (naren.daniel@nyu.edu, 646-292-8381).

Case Background:

Under the Affordable Care Act and its related regulations, employers of 50 or more people are required to provide a minimum level of health insurance to their employees. Among other requirements, the health plan must include coverage for FDA-approved contraceptive methods. 

Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. are two family-owned, for-profit corporations. The corporations’ owners objected to the requirement that the corporations provide coverage for contraceptives on the grounds that doing so contradicts their religious beliefs. As a result, the corporations and owners filed suits claiming that the requirement violates their religious freedoms under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the First Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the corporations under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.