When the legal challenges against the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate were first filed, they seemed destined to fail. The law already exempts houses of worship and religious non-profits, and as the 3rd Circuit explained, courts have “long recognized the distinction between the owners of a corporation and the corporation itself.” Ruling that “a for-profit corporation can engage in religious exercise” would “eviscerate the fundamental principle that a corporation is a legally distinct entity from its owners.”
And yet, as Irin Carmon reports, conservatives on the high court found a way to side with Hobby Lobby anyway.
The Supreme Court has ruled that a closely-held company can be exempt from the contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act. […]
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the law at issue in the case, has never been applied to for-profit entities. The Court had to decide whether corporations even have religious exercise rights – making the beliefs of the employer synonymous with the entire company – and weigh that question against the potential harms to the employees.
It was a 5-4 decision, with the five Republican-appointed justices siding against the contraception policy and the four Democratic-appointed justices ruling in favor of it. Note, it’s not a short decision: there’s the majority ruling, a concurrence, are three separate dissents.
Of particular interest, the court seems to make a distinction between for-profit corporations and “closely held” for-profit corporations, which are businesses in which no more than five individuals own most of the corporation.