George Will | The Supreme Court reins in government bullies

Two 5 to 4 decisions this week, on the final decision day of the Supreme Court’s term, dealt with issues that illustrate the legal consequences of political tactics by today’s progressives. One case demonstrated how progressivism’s achievement, the regulatory state, manufactures social strife and can do so in ways politically useful to progressives. The other case arose from government coercion used to conscript unwilling citizens into funding the progressives’ party.

Under the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), any government action that substantially burdens religious practices will be subject to strict judicial scrutiny to determine if it, rather than some less intrusive measure, is necessary to achieve a compelling government interest. The Affordable Care Act, as supplemented by regulations, requires for-profit employers to provide health-care coverage that includes all 20 Food and Drug Administration-approved birth control methods.

These include four that prevent a fertilized egg from being implanted in the uterus. Some persons consider this tantamount to abortion and oppose these abortifacients for religious reasons. Why did Congress, having enacted RFRA, write this clearly incompatible birth control mandate? Congress didn’t.

In the ACA, Congress simply required health plans to provide “preventive care” for women. An executive branch agency decided this meant the full menu of 20 technologies. So, during oral argument in March, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy asked: “What kind of constitutional structure do we have if the Congress can give an agency the power to grant or not grant a religious exemption based on what the agency determined?”

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