Two landmark cases will be heard today concerning the Affordable Care Act’s birth control mandate.
The first case the court will take up is Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. The second is Sebelius v. Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. The Supreme Court consolidated the cases and allotted a total of one hour for oral arguments on Tuesday morning.
Both are for-profit companies. Hobby Lobby is a Oklahoma-based arts and crafts retail chain with and Christian owners so devout that the stores close on Sundays. Conestoga Wood is a Pennsylvania-based manufacturer of wood doors and other furniture. Both sued to block the mandate to cover contraceptives like Plan B and Ella, saying it violates their religious liberty.
The groups say the mandate runs afoul of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a federal law enacted in 1993, which holds that government may not “substantially burden” a person’s exercise of religion unless it demonstrates a “compelling governmental interest” and employs the “least restrictive means” of furthering that interest.
The Obama administration argues that, because for-profit businesses employ and serve the general public, they must follow the law. And there is no burden on the exercise of religion by following the law. But, if the court rules against the administration, here are the consequences:
The broader impacts are unknown until a ruling comes down. A defeat for the government would expand the concept of corporate personhood by concluding that a for-profit business can hold religious beliefs that afford it special treatment under the law. In the longer-term, religious business owners might feel empowered to sue to get out of other laws they say violate their religious liberty.