“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man & his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.”
Thomas Jefferson – letter to the Danbury Baptists, Jan 1, 1802
King v Burwell – a somewhat surprising 6-3 ruling that determined that the intent of Congress in the ACA legislation was to include both state & federally operated exchanges to be eligible for tax credits. This would appear to be accurate as far as the intent is considered. At issue was the specific use of the word ‘state’ in the legislation. It also bears reminders for those that disagree with the decision that the word ‘state’ is often used to refer to the government in a broader sense, not just to the individual US states. The suit was attempt to effectively invalidate the federal exchanges because of the wording. This had the potential to negatively impact millions of people in the 34 states that utilize federally run healthcare exchanges. Ironically, this conservative loss was also a win for Republicans (and 34 governors are heaving sighs of relief) because a different outcome would have left the fallout squarely in the Republicans’ laps – a political land mine they did not want to deal with. Now, they can merely continue to campaign on what a bad thing the ACA is, without anyone experiencing the downside to having it taken away.
Texas Dept of Housing v Inclusive Communities Project – a 5-4 decision that determined that Texas’ distribution of landlord tax credits, which require acceptance of low income housing vouchers, is effectively perpetuating segregation by having a ‘disparate impact’ on minorities, and that Fair Housing Act violations occur even when there may not have been deliberate intent to discriminate. It will be interesting, though, to see how much really improves as a result.
Obergefell v Hodges – a 5-4 decision that was, perhaps, not so surprising, given the Court’s previous gutting of the Defense of Marriage Act. The core of this issue has been the religious contention that marriage can only be between a man and a woman, and certainly from the perspective of most religions that is true – and churches that do not support marriage equality certainly should not be, and are not, required to officiate at wedding ceremonies. But marriage predates most religions, and even Biblically, it can be argued that marriage has certainly NOT always been clearly defined as one man/one woman. And the debate will go on, because those opposing opinions are unlikely to change, but in the ruling, the court determined that from a Constitutional perspective, the government does not have the right to ban gay marriage. In his majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote:
“Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered. The same is true of those who oppose same-sex marriage for other reasons. In turn, those who believe allowing same-sex marriage is proper or indeed essential, whether as a matter of religious conviction or secular belief, may engage those who disagree with their view in an open and searching debate. The Constitution, however, does not permit the State to bar same-sex couples from marriage on the same terms as accorded to couples of the opposite sex.”
I know that there are many who disagree with me, but all three of those decisions released in the past two days have been the constitutionally correct ones – and that is, after all, what the Supreme Court is for.