In the long run, John Roberts is going to go down as one of the worst chief justices of the Supreme Court. I don’t say that because I disagree with the rulings of the court. That’s a given, even when the court isn’t so skewed. The problem for Roberts’ legacy is that the Court is getting totally out of control. It no longer seems like a deliberative body and seems more like just another legislature where the Republicans and the Democrats battle it out.
This was especially clear to me yesterday when I read, Supreme Court OKs Another Religious Birth Control Exemption. I’ll give you the details in a moment, but the short version is this: on Monday, the Court said one thing and then on Thursday, they reversed themselves. This is not surprising, of course. As I wrote on Monday, the conservatives on the Court seem to have thrown out the whole idea of consistency. Just as with Bush v Gore before, this week the Court carved out a special exception for one particular belief of a particular kind of Christian. We know that they will not apply this logic generally because it would mean the end of law in the United States.
You may remember some time back that the Obama administration came up with a birth control compromise for religious-oriented nonprofits. The idea was that the groups would not pay for birth control but the insurance companies would provide it at their cost. The truth of the matter is that there is no cost because generally, birth control pays for itself. Pregnancies and babies are very expensive. Well, in Monday’s decision, the majority praised this compromise. So why is it on Thursday that the very same majority gave Wheaton College a temporary exemption from the contraceptive mandate?
Here’s how it is supposed to work: if a group felt that they might endanger their seat in heaven by providing birth control to their employees, they needed to file a form saying, “Hell no, we hate hoes!” But Wheaton College didn’t even do that. They just went to court and asked for an exception and they got it. Actually, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals said no. And the Supreme Court overruled it. It will undoubtedly be heard as a case next year.
There are two issues here. First, the Court majority is saying that the harm done to individuals until the case is fully resolved (for example, death) is nothing compared to the hurt feelings of institutions like Wheaton College. It also signals that the conservatives are planning to find that the religious exception doesn’t just apply to closely held companies who are absolutely, positively certain that they know exactly what God wants. (Note: one of the things that Wheaton knows God doesn’t want is Catholics, since in 2004 they fired a philosophy professor who converted to Catholicism.)
Second, it is now clear that the majority’s argument in Burwell v Hobby Lobby where they praised the administration’s compromise was just to allow them political cover. It was meant to make them seem reasonable. The fact is that at least four of the justices are nothing but ideologues who are determined to put their particular brand of Christianity in a state of quasi-official religion.
Of course, as is typical of the conservative bullies on the court, the order was not signed. So Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Elena Kagan put out a 16-page signed dissent. Sotomayor wrote, “I have deep respect for religious faith, for the important and selfless work performed by religious organizations and for the values of pluralism. But the Court’s grant of an injunction in this case allows Wheaton’s beliefs about the effect of its actions to trump the democratic interest in allowing the Government to enforce the law.” She also noted “those who are bound by our decisions usually believe they can take us at our word. Not so today.”
Indeed they can’t. And that’s why I think Roberts will be vilified in the future. And he’s very clearly aware of what’s going on at the court. That’s why he found in favor of Obamacare in the first place. But when the issue is his Christian faith (He’s actually a Catholic; maybe he should have thought about that when siding with the anti-Catholic bigotry that defines Wheaton College.) he can’t seem to stop himself. It’s like religion disrupts his thinking ability.
I’m generally fairly tolerant of religion. But I’m getting to the point of siding with Christopher Hitchens in the subtitle of God Is Not Great: religion does poison everything.