The Supreme Court held in favor on June 30 of the right of a family-owned business to exclude on religious grounds certain types of contraceptives from insurance coverage for its employees.
The 5-4 vote by the justices in Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, et al, v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., marks the second victory from the nation’s highest court in less than a week for Catholic University Law School Professor Mark Rienzi, who was part of the legal team that filed a brief last October at the Supreme Court in the Hobby Lobby case. Rienzi’s involvement in it comes through the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, where he has served as senior counsel since 2011.
Last week, on June 26, Court held 9-0 that a Massachusetts law providing a 35-foot protest-free zone outside abortion clinics in the state is an unconstitutional infringement of free speech. That case, McCullen v. Coakley, was argued personally by Rienzi before the Justices in January.
In the Hobby Lobby case, the Becket Fund lawyers had urged the high court to review a decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit that delved into the contentious issue of whether government health care mandates may force employers to violate their religious beliefs.
Last year, on the grounds of religious objection, Hobby Lobby sued the federal government over its mandate that the company's owners were required to provide the contraceptive "morning-after" Plan B and "week-after" Ella One pills as part of health benefits available to its employees.
The company lost the first round of its legal challenge, but in 2013 the Tenth Circuit Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby, granting it an exemption from the federal directives.
The company could have dropped legal action at that point, but chose instead to take the unusual step of siding with the government in urging certiorari review of a decision that was already a legal victory for the plaintiff.
Though they argued for different outcomes, the arts-and-crafts company and the government shared the belief that the case raised critical issues of religious freedom law, and that it made sense for the Supreme Court to answer those questions now.
Rienzi’s deep involvement in both cases that drew favorable judgments from the Supreme Court in June stem from his longstanding litigation and research interests focusing on the Fourteenth Amendment, free speech, and the free exercise of religion.