I don’t pretend to be a federal court lawyer, or even a lawyer, but like many HS social studies teachers, I taught law to upperclassmen in a public school. I caught a news bit from Reuters that read: “U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor has refused to block enforcement starting next week of a requirement in President Barack Obama’s 2010 healthcare overhaul that some companies provide insurance coverage for contraceptive drugs and devices.”
I always thought that challenges to a lower court decision worked their way up through appellate courts to the Supreme Court, not just to a member of the SC. Apparently, that is not the case. The United States is divided into thirteen circuit courts of appeals, each of which is assigned a “circuit justice” from the Supreme Court.
Today, the circuit justice for each circuit is responsible for dealing with certain types of applications that, under the Court’s rules, may be addressed by a single justice. These include applications for emergency stays (including stays of execution in death-penalty cases) and injunctions pursuant to the All Writs Act arising from cases within that circuit, as well as routine requests such as requests for extensions of time. In the past, circuit justices also sometimes ruled on motions for bail in criminal cases, writs of habeas corpus, and applications for writs of error granting permission to appeal. Ordinarily, a Justice will resolve such an application by simply endorsing it “Granted” or “Denied” or entering a standard form of order. However, the justice may elect to write an opinion — referred to as an in-chambers opinion — in such matters if he or she wishes.
As of September 28, 2010, the allotment of the justices among the circuits was:
|District of Columbia Circuit||Chief Justice Roberts|
|First Circuit||Justice Breyer|
|Second Circuit||Justice Ginsburg|
|Third Circuit||Justice Alito|
|Fourth Circuit||Chief Justice Roberts|
|Fifth Circuit||Justice Scalia|
|Sixth Circuit||Justice Kagan|
|Seventh Circuit||Justice Kagan|
|Eighth Circuit||Justice Alito|
|Ninth Circuit||Justice Kennedy|
|Tenth Circuit||Justice Sotomayor|
|Eleventh Circuit||Justice Thomas|
|Federal Circuit||Chief Justice Roberts|
The latest case of one SC justice exercising emergency powers concerns Hobby Lobby, a national arts and crafts chain with more than 500 stores in 41 states, which is now facing $1.3 million in daily fines after Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor denied their emergency request to block enforcement of the Obamacare contraception mandate.
The company is owned by the Green family, devout, evangelical Christians. They believe “it is by God’s grace and provision that Hobby Lobby has endured” and they seek to honor God by operating their company in a manner consistent with Biblical principles.”
The family believes the Obamacare mandate to provide the morning-after and week-after pills is a violation of their religious convictions.
“To remain true to their faith, it is not their intention as a company, to pay for abortion-inducing drugs,” Becket Fund attorney Kyle Duncan wrote in a statement.
Duncan said the company would continue to provide health insurance for its employees while they fight the government in court.
“The Green family respects the religious convictions of all Americans, including those who do not agree with them,” Duncan said in a statement. “All they are asking is for the government to give them the same respect by not forcing them to violate their religious beliefs.”
There are now 42 separate lawsuits challenging the mandate.
Yet, in a previous case Sotomayor ruled for a Muslim inmate who was denied Ramadan meals. In Ford v. McGinnis, 352 F.3d 582 (2d Cir. 2003), Sotomayor wrote an opinion that reversed a district court decision holding that a Muslim inmate’s First Amendment rights had not been violated because the holiday feast that he was denied was not a mandatory one in Islam. Sotomayor held that the inmate’s First Amendment’s rights were violated because the feast was subjectively important to the inmate’s practice of Islam.
I’d say there’s a bit of hypocrisy in the Justice’s rulings. Because of Obamacare being forced down our throats, the owners of Hobby Lobby now face violating their religious beliefs, suffering under a penalty that will surely kill the business, or just closing the business down themselves and firing some 50,000 employees.