BLOG5 Cases to Watch at the Supreme Court in 2016

By Jane Scharl Posted on: | January 25, 2016

With the potential for a groundbreaking affirmation of conscience rights, the only abortion case in almost a decade, and a multi-pronged challenge to Obamacare's HHS Mandate on the docket, this is one Supreme Court term not to be missed. Here's a lineup of the most significant cases for life, marriage and the family, and religious liberty the nine Justices will be hearing this year:

Life:Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole

In 2013, legislators in Texas passed a law (Texas HB2) requiring abortionists to comply with the same health and safety standards as other outpatient medical providers. These health and safety standards would require abortion centers to meet the standards of a typical outpatient operating room, including having hallways wide enough for gurneys and proper sterilization procedures for instruments. The law also requires abortionists to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion center in case the woman has to seek hospital care because of post-abortion complications.

To Texas legislators, it was common sense, considering that abortions present many of the same risks as other minor to mid-level surgeries. To pro-life advocates, it was a clear-cut defense of life: the life of women, who should never have to endure the filth reported in some abortion facilities or face the horrors of substandard abortionists like Kermit Gosnell, and of unborn children, who should be defended by law against abortionists who can line their pockets more quickly by cutting corners on safety. But to abortion supporters, it was a blatant attack on women’s rights, so they sued. They argued that the bill puts an “undue burden” on the right to abortion, because the bill’s new requirements forced 22 of the state’s 40 abortion clinics to close down.

For pro-life advocates, the fact that over half of the abortion clinics in Texas did not meet basic health and safety requirements for the procedures they were performing only strengthens the case for the common sense law. While ADF is not directly involved in the case, we filed a friend-of-the-court brief in favor of Texas HB 2, and in June 2015, the Fifth Circuit upheld the regulations. The abortion industry asked the Supreme Court to hear the case, and it agreed to set oral arguments for March 2nd, 2016. The Court will again have our friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of thousands of conscientious pro-life healthcare professionals to consider.

Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole is the first abortion case to come to the Supreme Court in nearly a decade. It comes on the heels of the nation-wide revelation of Planned Parenthood’s interest in profit over women’s health, making it a pivotal moment in the tragic history of abortion legislation in America. The Supreme Court will have to decide whether women’s health is worth defending in the face of powerful forces like Planned Parenthood that want to make sure the abortion industry isn’t held to basic and ethical medical standards.

Religious Freedom: Zubik v. Burwell

The Obamacare HHS Mandate requires employers, regardless of their convictions, to provide abortion-inducing drugs to employees through their health plans. ADF has been on the forefront of defending the freedom of conscience of employers, and by God’s grace has a 19-4 winning record against the HHS Mandate. Of the four cases we've lost, two Geneva College v. Burwell and Southern Nazarene University v. Burwell will be reviewed by the Supreme Court in March in a consolidated case including five other Courts of Appeals losses, including the Little Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell, a case involving a group of nuns dedicated to serving the aged, who risk being fined to the point of being unable to continue their work if the Mandate is enforced. Each plaintiff objects to being forced to provide abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception through their health plans under threat of heavy penalties. We pray that the Court will view these cases in a similar light as Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Burwell, where the Justices decided in favor of freedom of conscience.

Religious Freedom: Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Pauley

The oft-touted “separation of church and state” is a sensitive subject, but it’s going to get serious consideration when the Supreme Court hears the case Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Pauley. In this case, the State of Missouri excluded a church-run pre-school and daycare center from a program that provides recycled tires for school playground surfaces—simply because the school is operated by a church. ADF will be representing the church. The question at stake is whether states can be openly hostile to religion, as the State of Missouri is doing by excluding churches and church-run organizations from publicly beneficial programs solely because the groups are religious. We pray that the Supreme Court will rule in favor of religious freedom, based on the fact that the Constitution does not allow states to suppress or exclude religious groups and organizations from government programs simply because they are religious.

Freedom of Conscience: Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association

This case is a little out of left field, but bear with us; it may prove to have significant ramifications for the right of people to be free to live and work according to their faith. In Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a group of teachers in California is taking on one of the most powerful labor unions in the country: the teachers’ union. The teachers are being forced by the government to pay union dues that go, at least in part, to pay for the union’s political speech. The teachers disagree with the political positions that the union takes and do not want to support the union’s political speech. But they cannot opt out: the government requires them to pay these dues, and the union insists on using their dues to pay for speech that goes against the teachers’ political beliefs. That is why the teachers sued. The government is compelling these teachers to engage in—or at least support—speech that they do not want to make, violating the First Amendment’s protection against compelled speech.

This is very similar to what is happening to ADF’s freedom of conscience clients. Barronelle Stutzman, Blaine Adamson, and Jack Phillips, are all creative professionals who own expressive businesses. They each use their artistic talents to create artistic expressive messages for their clients.  And they have something else in common: they each share the religious belief that sexual relations are to be reserved for marriage, and also that marriage is only the union of a man and a woman.  Barronelle, Blaine, and Jack were asked to use their artistic talent to create messages that conflicted with this religious belief.  Each respectfully declined to do so.  And now, they are all being sued under laws that purport to outlaw “discrimination” based on sexual orientation, but really are being used as weapons to try to produce forced conformity with the government’s desire that everyone must support same-sex relationships.

Just like the teachers do not want to speak certain political messages, Barronelle, Blaine, and Jack do not want to create and speak messages supportive of same-sex marriage, or of sexual relations outside of marriage.  But for them, it goes even deeper than “they do not want to.”  Their consciences won’t let them create those messages, because they believe they are wrong.  Those messages go against their religious beliefs.  Speaking those messages would violate their faith. 

These creative, loving people, many of whom have maintained decades-long friendships with people who identify as gay, are being compelled much more directly than the teachers in Friedrichs to engage in speech they fundamentally disagree with. A decision in favor of freedom of conscience in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association could establish precedent in favor of the First Amendment protection from being forced by the government to speak messages we disagree with and do not want to speak.   

And one final case awaiting acceptance from the Supreme Court:

Religious Freedom: Stormans v. Wiesman

ADF clients, the Stormans, who own a grocery store in Washington State, and Margo Thelen and Rhonda Mesler, two pharmacists, have asked the Supreme Court to review a ruling from the Ninth Circuit, which upholds a Washington State law forcing pharmacies and pharmacists to dispense abortion-inducing medication, despite their deeply-held beliefs. Whereas pharmacists and stores are allowed to refer patients to other pharmacies for many other reasons, the law targets religious convictions in an attempt to force people to violate their consciences through coercion. The law was drafted in collaboration from Planned Parenthood. We pray that the Justices will choose to hear this case, and will affirm religious freedom in the face of these attempts to prohibit people from freely exercising their faith. 

Jane Scharl

Contributing Writer

Jane Scharl has written for National Review Online, Comment Magazine, and The Intercollegiate Review.

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