Supreme Court Roundup Part Three: Harris v. Quinn

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Category: Constitutional Interpretation, Constitutional Law, First Amendment, Health Care, Labor & Employment Law, Public
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the american twins 2On October 30, I participated in a presentation entitled “Supreme Court Roundup” with Ilya Shapiro of the Cato Institute.  The event was sponsored by the Law School chapters of the Federalist Society and the American Constitution Society.  We discussed three significant cases from the 2013-2014 Supreme Court term: McCutcheon v. FEC, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and Harris v. Quinn.  It was a spirited discussion, in which Mr. Shapiro and I presented opposing views, but I want to thank Mr. Shapiro for taking the time to visit the Law School and for sharing his perspective with the students.

This is the third and final blog post on the presentation.  Readers can find the first post here, and the second post here.  What follows are my prepared remarks on Harris v. Quinn, and also a brief conclusion regarding the three cases.  Readers interested in Mr. Shapiro’s position on the case can refer to the amicus brief that he filed on behalf of the Cato Institute.

The case of Harris v. Quinn involved an Illinois law that made home health aides state employees under the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act.  As a result of this law, these workers became joint employees of both the private individual who receives the services of the home-health worker and the State of Illinois.  The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) represents home health aides under a contract with the State of Illinois and collects mandatory dues from both union and non-union workers, which are called “agency fees.”  Persons who have a negative view of organized labor object to agency fees because they compel people to pay money to an organization to which they do not belong.  Persons who have a positive view of organized labor support agency fees because they prevent non-union employees from “free riding,” which occurs when non-union employees receive the benefits of union-negotiated employment contracts without contributing to the cost of negotiating them.

Under existing precedent, a government employer who collects agency fees from non-union members does not violate their First Amendment rights because when the government acts as an employer it has a compelling interest in avoiding conflicting demands for wages and employment conditions from competing groups of employees.  Abood v. Detroit Board of Education (1977).  The plaintiffs in the Harris case wanted to use their lawsuit to overturn the Abood decision, thereby allowing any government employees who are not union members to work for the government without paying agency fees to a public employee union.  Read more »

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Supreme Court Roundup Part Two: Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.

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Category: Business Regulation, Constitutional Law, Corporate Law, First Amendment, Health Care, Public, Religion & Law, U.S. Supreme Court
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the bosses of senateOn October 30, I participated in a presentation entitled “Supreme Court Roundup” with Ilya Shapiro of the Cato Institute.  The event was sponsored by the Law School chapters of the Federalist Society and the American Constitution Society.  We discussed three significant cases from the 2013-2014 Supreme Court term: McCutcheon v. FEC, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and Harris v. Quinn.  It was a spirited discussion, in which Mr. Shapiro and I presented opposing views, but I want to thank Mr. Shapiro for taking the time to visit the Law School and sharing his perspective with the students.

This is the second of three blog posts on the presentation.  Readers can find the first post here.  What follows are my prepared remarks on Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.  Readers interested in Mr. Shapiro’s position on the case can refer to the amicus brief that he filed on behalf of the Cato Institute.

The legal issue in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores can be described simply.  Under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act, the Department of Health and Human Services requires employers to provide health insurance plans making contraception available to their female employees at no cost.  In the NFIB v. Sebelius decision in 2012, the Supreme Court upheld Congress’ power to pass the Affordable Care Act as an exercise of its taxing power.  But even if Congress has the power to pass the law, can a for profit corporation nonetheless avoid following the law by arguing that the contraception provisions burden the corporation’s free exercise of religion in violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)?

The rights of the individual shareholders that own the corporation were not at issue.  The law does not act on the individuals, and does not require these human beings to do anything.  The only legal requirement imposed by the law is imposed on the corporate entity.

So what did Congress intend to do when it passed RFRA in 1993?  As I will explain, the Hobby Lobby case presents two opposing views as to what Congress attempted to accomplish by passing that law.  The dissent by Justice Ginsburg argues that the intent of RFRA was to create a statutory remedy for burdens on religious expression that adopted the standard for evaluating First Amendment violations prior to the 1990 Employment Division v. Smith case. The majority opinion by Justice Alito argues that by passing RFRA Congress created a statutory remedy that protected more “persons” than the pre-Smith caselaw protected and that granted them greater protections than the pre-Smith caselaw granted. Read more »

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Big Tobacco Sues Uruguay

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Category: Business Regulation, Health Care, Public
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fda cigarette warning lungsThose who follow efforts to use law to reduce smoking will be aware the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia found in R.J. Reynolds v. FDA, 696 F.3d 1215 (D.C. Cir. 2012) that mandatory graphic imagery on cigarette packs was a violation of commercial speech rights. As a result of the decision, cigarette packs continue to have only prosaic warnings, which go not only unread but also, for the most part, unnoticed.

Foreign countries, of course, are not bound by U.S. law, and Uruguay forged ahead with its own laws requiring graphic warnings. They include photos of decaying teeth, premature babies, and disturbing hospital scenes, with each picture covering 80 percent of each pack. Big Tobacco cannot invoke its commercial speech rights in Uruguay, but Philip Morris has sued Uruguay for $25 million, alleging the required warnings violate treaties protecting intellectual property rights.

The case is in the courts, with former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg paying many of Uruguay’s legal costs. Smoking is on the rise in developing countries, and many think the decision in Uruguay will have significant impact on other developing countries’ willingness to require graphic warnings.

For my own part, I strongly endorse the required graphic warnings in the name of social justice. Smoking in both the United States and abroad is increasingly concentrated among poor and working-class men and women, and the health problems associated with smoking are also greater in these sectors of the world population. For the poor and members of the working class, reading skills and even any interest in written texts are limited, but poor and working-class smokers are aware of and receptive to visual imagery. If they could literally see what smoking causes, they might fight harder to break their deathly, addictive habit.

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US Supreme Court Review: Two Employee Benefit Cases (Dudenhoeffer and Hobby Lobby)

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Category: Business Regulation, Corporate Law, Health Care, Labor & Employment Law, Public, U.S. Supreme Court
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US Supreme Court logo(This is another post in our series, Looking Back at the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 Term.) This blog post is the third of three on labor and employment law cases by the United States Supreme Court in the last Term. This post focuses on two employee benefit law/ERISA cases: Fifth Third Bancorp v. Dudenhoeffer and Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. First, a disclosure: Along with six other law professors, I co-wrote an Amicus Curiae brief in support of the Dudenhoeffer plaintiffs.

Dudenhoeffer involves so-called ERISA stock-drop litigation, which has been rampant in the federal courts for a couple of decades now. The basic formula of these cases is that, as part of the employer-sponsored retirement plan (whether an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) or a participant-directed 401(k) plan), the employer offers its own stock as either the entire pension plan investment or part of the pension plan investment.   When the company goes south and its stock price falls, plan fiduciaries find themselves in a difficult position as far as whether to sell the stock or to hold on to it. This is especially so when the plan fiduciary has conflicting duties as an officer of the company and as a fiduciary of the plan. As a corporate officer, not only is the person supposed to act in the best interests of shareholders to maximize the value of the company, but securities law forbids them to trade stock based on non-public material information. As a fiduciary to the ESOP or 401(k) plan, ERISA gives that same person an obligation to act in the best interest and with the same care as a prudent fiduciary would when making decisions about that employee benefit plan. And in case you are wondering, ERISA Section 408(c)(3) gives employers the ability to assign the same person both officer and plan fiduciary roles or set up so-called “dual-role fiduciaries.” Read more »

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Majority Opinion on “Obamacare” Doesn’t Lie in Either Extreme

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Category: Health Care, Marquette Law School, Public
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As is so often the case, the focus in news reporting on the fresh results of the Marquette Law School Poll, released on Wednesday, was on the race for governor, with Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s lead over Democratic challenger Mary Burke holding steady from the prior round of polling in January. (Walker led 48 percent to 41 percent this time, compared to 47 percent to 41 percent then.)

But there is a lot more in each round of polling, both results that shed richer light on voters’ views related to candidates and voters’ views on issues. Distinguished Fellow Mike Gousha looks at some of the former in his posting on this blog, which can be found by clicking here. Permit me to look at one aspect of the latter, the results related to the new federal health law, often called Obamacare — results which don’t get much time in the spotlight.

Professor Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Law School Poll, pointed to one of the most interesting results related to health care in his discussion of the results with Gousha on Wednesday. Put simply: There isn’t much political mileage to be gained from being either strongly in favor or strongly opposed to the federal law. What the majority of those who were polled said they want is to keep the new law but improve it. Specifically, only 8 percent want to keep the law the way it is, only 18 percent want to see it repealed and not replaced. But 52 percent want it improved, while another 18 percent said they want it repealed but replaced with an alternative. That’s 70 percent who want a better plan than Obamacare, but still want a federal health care law (presumably in addition to or expanding on Medicare and Medicaid). Read more »

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Legislative Treatment of E-Cigarettes

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In recent months, efforts to subject e-cigarettes to the same laws as traditional cigarettes have swept the country.  The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has unanimously voted to subject the smokeless, tobacco-less cigarette to the same public bans as cigarettes.  Across the country in New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie recently unveiled a new budget plan that will subject e-cigarettes to the same excise tax rate as their tobacco-filled cousins.
So, should e-cigarettes and cigarettes be subject to the same laws?  Read more »
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Zelinsky: Use of HSAs and HRAs as Compromise to ACA Contraceptive Mandate Dispute

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Category: First Amendment, Health Care, Labor & Employment Law, Public, Religion & Law
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stethoscopeEd Zelinsky (Cardozo) has an interesting post on his OUP blog discussing a possible compromise in the on-going dispute between for-profit religious corporations, like Hobby Lobby, and the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act’s (ACA’s) contraceptive coverage mandate.

Here’s a taste:

This entire controversy is unnecessary. The tax law contains devices for reconciling the religious concerns of employers like Hobby Lobby with the policy of expanding medical coverage: health savings accounts (HSAs) and health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs). The current regulatory exemption from the contraception mandate should be amended to include for-profit employers and to exempt from the federal contraception mandate employers (both non-profit and profit-making) who maintain HSAs or HRAs for their respective employees. Compromise along these lines would respect the genuinely-held views of religious minorities while implementing the federal policy of broadening access to health care.

An HSA/HRA compromise would eliminate the complicity of religious employers in the provision of contraception methods to which they object while enabling such employers’ employees to obtain on a pre-tax basis any medicines or devices such employees want, including contraception to which their employers object. Employers’ payments into their employees’ HSAs and HRAs would be the equivalent of the cash wages paid to such employees, wages which the employees are free to spend as they choose.

Personally, I do not see a RFRA or free exercise problem with ACA’s mandate because it is not a law that targets religion or otherwise substantially burdens religious rights of individuals. Read more »

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New “Marquette Lawyer” Magazine Offers Insights from Paul Clement

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Category: Education & Law, Federal Law & Legal System, Federalism, Health Care, Legal Practice, Marquette Law School, Public, Speakers at Marquette, U.S. Supreme Court
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Paul Clement has argued some 70 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. He was solicitor general of the United States and now, in private practice, continues to present arguments in some of the most important cases of our time.

In the cover story in the new “Marquette Lawyer” magazine, Clement discusses some of the cases he’s been involved in, particularly the momentous Affordable Care Act decision of 2012 and several national security cases. He talks about what it is like to make an argument before the Court and especially what’s needed to prepare for an argument.

Clement’s thoughts were offered during his visit to Marquette Law School on March 4, 2013, when he delivered the annual E. Harold Hallows Lecture and held a special “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” event for law students. (Video of the lecture is available here and of the “On the Issues” here.)

Also in the new issue, an article describes the complex legacy of a class action lawsuit challenging how Milwaukee Public Schools deals with students with special education needs. Even as plaintiffs lost the case in court, they succeeded in influencing changes that they favored.

Professor Phoebe Williams is featured in a profile story in the magazine, and the success of the Law School’s faculty blog is marked with a compilation of pieces written by Professor Daniel D. Blinka; Mike Gousha, distinguished fellow in law and public policy; and State Public Defender Kelli S. Thompson, L’96 . Read more »

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Two Americas

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Category: Congress & Congressional Power, Health Care, Public
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The federal government is now shutdown. What happens next is anyone’s guess, especially since we hit the debt ceiling in two weeks and still have to pass an actual budget to fund the government. To get out of the current stalemate, one compromise that has been floated is for Congress to pass a continuing resolution – funding the government until November – along with the “Vitter amendment.” The Vitter Amendment would prohibit Congress from exempting itself from Obamacare. So what is the controversy over Congress and its staffers having to purchase healthcare on the exchanges? What are the issues with Congress exempting itself from Obamacare? And what does it say about our legislature?

In 2009, during the peak of the legislative debate over healthcare reform, Senator Chuck Grassley (R) inserted an amendment in Obamacare that required all members of Congress and their staffers to purchase health insurance on the newly-created health insurance exchanges. Of course, members of Congress wouldn’t be alone in doing this. Starting today, millions of Americans are utilizing the exchanges. Read more »

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Health Commissioner: Milwaukee Must Deal with Race and Poverty Issues

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If Milwaukee is to become a healthy city in both broad terms and in terms of specific issues, it must deal with issues in an honest, constructive way with poverty and race, City of Milwaukee Health Commission Bevan Baker said Thursday during an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” session at Eckstein Hall.

“Milwaukee will not be the greatest, most relevant, healthiest city in America until we deal with our dirty linen,” Baker, health commissioner since 2004, told an audience of about 150.

“To do that,” he continued, “we have got to do what other cities have done, and that is to address race, to address poverty, to look at these issues, and say, it is tough, it is unimaginable, it makes me sick, it is ugly, but to be great we have got to do the unimaginable thing, and that is to once and for all say, and in true fashion, to take our spiritual and moral compass and say, Milwaukee will not be the healthiest, greatest, most relevant city in America until we deal with our dirty linen. That’s what New York has done and that is what Miami is trying to do and that’s what other cities in this nation I have lived in have done.” Read more »

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The Health Information Exchange Deadline

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Category: Congress & Congressional Power, Federal Law & Legal System, Federalism, Health Care, Public, Wisconsin Law & Legal System
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Friday’s deadline, November 16, calls for each state, including Wisconsin, to give the federal government a “blueprint” for a Health Information Exchange.  State exchanges compare the benefits and costs of insurance policies and post the results online so people and employers can choose which are the best values for them.  They will also make electronic patient records accessible for treatment and research for the public health.   As I noted in my election-eve blog post, exchanges (also called HIEs) are central to health care reform by making better consumer choices possible.

State blueprints would resolve such choices as whether the exchange will be a private non-profit company or a state agency, and what consent and protections are in place for patient privacy.  Overall, a state can choose whether its exchange will be run by the state, in a partnership with the federal government, or by the federal government.  If a state doesn’t provide a blueprint, its exchange will be formed and run according the rules and models in federal regulations that will be issued soon.  Read more »

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Health Care Access and Payment–November 2012

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A good question posed: What really happens to healthcare when the election dust settles? The continued implementation or the repeal of Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, is proposed as a difference that turns on the tally of the votes for president for 2013 to 2017. I think the answer is yes, but for reasons not included in the rhetoric of party platforms.

The chances of outright repeal are slim to none, because the math doesn’t work. The votes for repeal have split along party lines. The House with its Republican majority has voted repeatedly for repeal but can’t effect it. The votes needed must be found in the Senate. A supermajority of 60 out of 100 senators is needed to repeal a law. There are 47 Republican senators, and 51 Democrats plus two independents with Democratic-leaning views. Thirty-three seats are at issue in the election and a Republican majority is possible, but a change of views by voters will not produce sixty Republican-leaning senators.

A procedural option theoretically can reduce the votes needed for repeal to 51, an ordinary majority.   Read more »

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