Mon, Sep 15, 2014 ●
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The Universal Notebook: The Supreme Court is against my religion

Opinion

The Universal Notebook: The Supreme Court is against my religion

In yet another narrow 5-4 decision, the activist judges on the U.S. Supreme Court have handed a major victory to Corporate America and done the people of the United States yet another grave injustice.

I’m amazed these corporate stooges even dare to show their faces in public after their assault on representative democracy in the Citizens United case, which allows corporations to buy U.S. elections, and now the dreadful Hobby Lobby decision, which allows corporate bosses to discriminate against workers just as long as they do it on religious grounds.

No wonder public approval ratings of the Supreme Court are at an all-time low of only about 25 percent. The majority of American citizens (61 percent) understand that the justices are not objective interpreters of the laws, but political appointees with personal partisan agendas.

The Roberts Court is determined to grant corporations all the rights of individuals. Constitutional originalists be damned, the U.S. Constitution does not mention corporations at all. Despite what Mitt Romney and Samuel Alito think, corporations are not “persons” and they should not have rights. Romney lost the presidential election because he held that absurd view. Members of the Supreme Court who think like that should be thrown off the bench.

In Hobby Lobby, the conservative block of the court ruled that a closely held company owned by Christian fundamentalists can refuse to allow employee health insurance plans to pay for forms of birth control they object to on religious grounds.

This is like the Catholic Church arguing that it shouldn’t have to pay for birth control for employees of the colleges and hospitals it owns.

But the money that pays for health insurance belongs to the workers who earned it, not to the companies that pay them. You’d think conservatives who are constantly carping about keeping the fruits of their labor would find it just as infuriating as progressives do that employers now get to decide how employees can spend their money.

In her rousing Hobby Lobby dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg got everything right that Justice Samuel Alito got wrong in the majority decision. Ginsburg’s main indictment is that Justices Alito, Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy and Thomas have essentially placed corporations above the law.

“In a decision of startling breadth,” Ginsburg wrote, “the Court holds that commercial enterprises, including corporations, along with partnerships and sole proprietorships, can opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

The Hobby Lobby decision may have focused on a Christian company objecting to covering birth control, but Justice Ginsburg could see the handwriting on the wall.

"Would the exemption,” she asked, “... extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah's Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations(?)”

And what’s to say health care will be the only thing to which the new religious exemption is applied. Minimum wage? Against my religion. Labor unions? Against my religion. OSHA regulations? Against my religion.

It’s time for a change on the Supreme Court. Ginsburg is 81. We have to hope that she will be circumspect enough to step down from the court in time for President Obama to appoint a similarly wise and progressive woman to replace her.

Chief Justice John Roberts is only 59, Samuel Alito, 64, Clarence Thomas, 66. They could be around for long time. There is no end to the damage these corporate cronies can do to the American way of life.

Elena Kagan is 54, Sonia Sotomayor, 60, Stephen Breyer, 75. We have to hope they can hold off their conservative colleagues until re-enforcements arrive. Anthony Kennedy at 77 and Anton Scalia at 78 are old men. It’s time for them to go.

The Supreme Court is the most undemocratic branch of our government. Although the Constitution simply states that justices “shall hold their offices during good behavior,” justices in fact serve for life and are answerable to no one. That makes them more powerful than the president of the United States. In light of Citizens United and Hobby Lobby, a case could be made that it is time to examine what is meant by “good behavior.”

What we really need, however, is a mandatory retirement age for Supreme Court justices. Most of the states that have a mandatory retirement age for judges set it at 70. That sounds about right to me. Vermont is the outlier with a retirement age of 90. Maine has no age limit.

If we don’t establish a mandatory retirement age or invoke a behavioral clause, then we should think about imposing term limits. Right now our only check on these high-handed judicial activists is making sure that the man or woman who nominates them is someone who has the best interests of the American people at heart, not the vested interests of extra-constitutional corporate entities.