“As the Court held in Employment Division v. Smith (1990), religious objectors must follow “neutral law[s] of general applicability.”
Ever since Justice Amy Coney Barrett joined the Court last fall, however, the Supreme Court has been rapidly dismantling Smith…the Court fired a bullet into Smith’s heart. It ruled that people of faith who want to gather in relatively large groups in someone’s home must be allowed to do so, despite the fact that California limits all in-home gatherings to just three households.
Although the Court’s new 5-4 decision in Tandon v. Newsom doesn’t explicitly overrule Smith, the decision makes it so easy for many religious objectors to refuse to comply with the law that Smith is basically a dead letter.
The Court’s new majority has accomplished what amounts to a revolution in its approach to religion and the law, entirely through cases brought by churches and other religious actors seeking exemptions from public health rules intended to slow the spread of Covid-19.
The Court is serious about giving religious conservatives broad immunity from the law — so serious, in fact, that it is literally willing to endanger people’s lives in order to achieve this goal.”
““California treats some comparable secular activities more favorably than at-home religious exercise,” the majority opinion in Tandon claims, “permitting hair salons, retail stores, personal care services, movie theaters, private suites at sporting events and concerts, and indoor restaurants to bring together more than three households at a time.
As Justice Kagan explains in her dissent, there are three very good reasons why a state might treat these secular activities differently than a gathering in people’s homes. First of all, “when people gather in social settings, their interactions are likely to be longer than they would be in a commercial setting,” and the people at social gatherings are “more likely to be involved in prolonged conversations.”
Additionally, “private houses are typically smaller and less ventilated than commercial establishments,” and “social distancing and mask-wearing are less likely in private settings and enforcement is more difficult.”
But, ultimately, none of these distinctions mattered to the Court’s majority. The practical impact of Tandon is that, so long as many religious objectors can cite any secular activity that is treated differently than a religious activity — no matter how distinct those two activities may be — this Supreme Court is very likely to grant the objector an exemption.
Tandon is not an especially surprising decision — the Court reached a similar conclusion last November in Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo, a decision that I described at the time as a “revolutionary victory” for religious conservatives.”
“After a week of hearings, it’s very unlikely that the public understands Barrett better now than they did on Monday, considering that the committee spent more time posturing than probing the judge’s judicial philosophy. Grandstanding may be an effective political strategy, but it didn’t tell us anything useful or significant about Barrett, and it won’t affect the outcome of her confirmation vote.”
““Things could be different with more data, of course,” said Clark. But overall, he thought her ideological profile was remarkably clear. “She’s voting very consistently in these cases so far. Even with this small number of cases, she’s showing up on the far right edge of the court.”
It’s hard, of course, to directly extrapolate from Barrett’s record as an appellate judge to how she might rule as a Supreme Court justice, but it’s reasonable to expect she will be reliably conservative. That said, Barrett has not always ruled in line with fellow conservatives on the 7th Circuit, and even the conservative justices on the Supreme Court disagree with each other on some topics or differ on which issues are more important. It remains to be seen just how persuadable Barrett might be if she’s confirmed, or how her perspective might change after a few years on the bench.”
“Barrett’s refusal to express her stance on climate change comes in spite of the overwhelming scientific evidence on the subject.
“I don’t think that my views on global warming or climate change are relevant to the job I would do as a judge, nor do I think I have views that are informed enough,” Barrett has also said.
As the New York Times’s John Schwartz wrote, however, her approach to the subject could be important in future cases: “In past decisions, the justices have accepted that human-caused climate change is occurring and determined that the Environmental Protection Agency can regulate greenhouse gases in the case Massachusetts v. E.P.A., but a more conservative Supreme Court might revisit the issue.”
What Barrett did say ended up echoing the way many Republicans have approached the subject of climate change in the past: She declined to comment on whether humans contributed to global warming, an evasion that still seemed to signal quite a lot about where she stands.”
“Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett is a critic of Roberts’s decisions upholding most of Obamacare. In a book review published in 2017, for example, Barrett denounced Roberts’s opinions in both NFIB and King, claiming the chief justice “pushed the Affordable Care Act beyond its plausible meaning to save the statute” in the first decision.
If Obamacare is struck down, roughly 20 million Americans will lose health coverage — a likely conservative estimate, as it does not count many people who have lost their employer-provided health insurance during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Questions over Obamacare have taken a starring role in Barrett’s confirmation hearing. Democratic senators have repeatedly brought up Barrett’s objections to the NFIB and King decisions and frequently referred to California v. Texas, a third case attacking Obamacare that the Supreme Court will hear in November.
Barrett didn’t deny criticizing the NFIB and King opinions, but suggested that perhaps she didn’t engage in particularly rigorous analysis when she attacked those two decisions.
After Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) asked Barrett about a 2015 NPR interview in which the future judge claimed the dissenting justices had the “better of the legal argument” in King, Barrett said she was merely a law professor when she made that statement. “A professor professes and can opine,” Barrett claimed, adding that she did not go through the “judicial decision-making process” when she determined that King was wrongly decided.”
“Barrett’s record..suggests she is a long-term threat to the viability of the ACA — even though the Court may very well still reject the unusually shaky legal arguments in Texas.”
“We know she identifies as an originalist who believes that the original public meaning of the Constitution is binding law. But we also know that she is skeptical of the radical libertarian originalist idea that economic regulation is presumptively unconstitutional, and that she believes some Supreme Court decisions that originalists may conclude are incorrectly decided nonetheless stand as “superprecedents” that the Court can abide by.
Her legal writing has also prompted heated reactions from detractors. One piece (with fellow law professor John Garvey) on when Catholic judges might be obligated to recuse themselves from death penalty cases, prompted criticism from Senate Democrats during her appeals court confirmation hearings, who suggested Barrett was unable to separate her faith from her jurisprudence (a charge she strongly rejected).
Another piece (with late Notre Dame colleague John Copeland Nagle) on how members of Congress should incorporate the original meaning of the Constitution into their votes has raised the eyebrows of some commentators, because it begins by noting that there are originalist arguments (which the paper itself does not accept, except for the sake of argument) to think that West Virginia was invalidly admitted as a state; that the 14th Amendment wasn’t properly ratified; and that paper money is unconstitutional, among other surprising conclusions.”
“She’s been pretty vocally committed to originalism as really being the guiding light, more so than some others. She is more explicitly committed to the notion that one ought to be an originalist, and that it is the primary principle for judges, than Roberts is, or than Kavanaugh historically was. In that sense, she’s a little more like Thomas and Gorsuch. She has a clear judicial philosophy, and originalism is at its core.”
“she has also suggested that judges ought to care more about stare decisis [the doctrine that courts should generally abide by their previous rulings] than Thomas tends to. I think she’s a more moderate figure in that regard than Thomas. She would be trying to navigate precedents that are in conflict or in tension with original meaning, rather than just thinking they ought to be tossed overboard.”
“I’m glad you brought up stare decisis. A paper she wrote with her colleague John Copeland Nagle, “Congressional Originalism,” has caused a bit of concern among critics, in part because she leads with a list of precedents that arguably conflict with the original meaning of the Constitution.
Brown v. Board of Education is the most incendiary one, but she mentions arguments that West Virginia was invalidly admitted, that the 14th Amendment wasn’t properly ratified, that paper money is unconstitutional, and so forth. She doesn’t say she thinks they ought to be overruled — and indeed suggests that the point is moot in most cases as these issues would never come before the Court — but I think even putting up the examples has raised hackles.
How should people weighing her nomination think about that paper?”
“I tend not to think it’s terribly significant. To some degree, it is an academic enterprise of trying to think about, “What are the tensions here? What are the implications of adopting a certain theoretical perspective? What are the implications if you think there are tensions between the theory and some of these foundational constitutional decisions that have been made over time, whether they are things like creating the state of West Virginia or things like Brown v. Board?” For her, that’s just a starting point for then trying to think about how to deal with the fact that there are going to be these tensions.
Importantly, her view was not, “you’ve got to go overturn all these decisions,””
” A lot of people have run with the notion that she’s emphasizing the significance of her religious belief and, likewise, the religious beliefs of other judges and justices. But I think it’s one of these cases where that’s the starting point for her, saying, “It is true that judges have religious beliefs. And those religious beliefs sometimes have implications for the kind of issues that come before the court.” And then the question is how judges ought to deal with that. Certainly her conclusion is not simply that judges ought to therefore impose their religious beliefs.”