The Supreme Court's recent controversial decisions involving religion in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Greece v. Galloway (allowing prayer at a public meeting) have drawn attention to its religious composition.
Remarkably not one Protestant now serves on the court. Its dominant conservative bloc of five justices is Catholic — Samuel A. Alito Jr., Anthony M. Kennedy, John G. Roberts Jr., Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas — while another Catholic, Sonia Sotomayor, usually votes with the three Jewish and liberal justices — Stephen A. Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan.
In Hobby Lobby the five Catholic men ruled that a "closely held corporation" owned by a religious family did not need to meet the Affordable Care Act's requirement to provide certain forms of contraception to its female employees. Critics have pointed out that in his majority opinion, Justice Alito seemed to be implicitly following Catholic doctrine, perhaps a coincidence, and that he did not define a "closely held corporation."
Media reports often ignored the acceptance by the owners of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties (a maker of wood cabinets) of most forms of contraception. But they objected specifically to Plan B, Ella and two kinds of IUD, claiming these methods caused "abortion" by preventing implantation. Alito's majority accepted the evangelical business owners' opinions and ignored overwhelming medical science showing that these contraceptives prevent fertilization not implantation.
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The religious beliefs of some of the Hobby Lobby majority may influence some of their decisions, but more importantly the Roberts court favors corporations and the 1 percent and worsens inequality. Alito et al., true to form, protected the religious freedom of corporations but not their female workers.
The court's majority is not really conservative, but is activist in pursuit of an ideological agenda to undo the Great Society, civil rights reforms, and even the New Deal.
Declaring corporations to be people, this gang of five gave us Citizens United (2010) and McCutcheon (2014), allowing even more billions to pour into our politics and diminishing the voice of ordinary citizens.
By 4 to 1 the American people in repeated polls call Citizens United a bad decision. Democrats and Republicans, who agree on little, both overwhelmingly want less money in politics.
The great Chief Justice John Marshall (1801-1835), a true conservative and nationalist, virtually made the judiciary a branch equal to the executive and legislative. In one of his critical decisions, Dartmouth College v. Woodward (1819), Marshall said that a corporation "is an artificial being, invisible, intangible ... the mere creature of law, possessing only those properties which the charter of creation confers upon it."
But this court's activist reactionaries, Alito, Kennedy, Roberts, Scalia and Thomas, have twisted the meaning of the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech to further the ongoing corruption of our political system. Their distrust of democracy and the American people is palpable. The court's resident "intellectual genius," Scalia, is on record saying that large majorities in favor of anything are usually wrong. He thus dismisses as irrelevant democratic processes of elections or votes in Congress.
The 1 percent court majority dances to tunes played by the National Chamber of Commerce, hearing a majority of cases the Chamber brings to it and deciding in favor of big business most of the time. These decisions have systematically removed protections from consumers and workers, enabled polluters, and fostered economic and political inequality.
The American people get it. Approval of the court is at 30 percent, the lowest since such tracking began in 1973.