Panel of GSU Law faculty discuss Hobby Lobby

Panelists Discuss Hobby Lobby

It was standing room only at the Georgia State University Colleges of Law’s Centers for Law, Health & Society’s Sept. 11 panel on the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. In its June 2014 opinion, the Supreme Court recognized the right of for-profit, closely held corporations to claim a religious exemption to the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Three law school professors spoke about the implications of the decision within their area of law to an audience of local attorneys, university administration, and students and faculty from across the university.

Each suggested that the decision has effects well beyond its impact on the contraceptive mandate.  Eric Segall, Kathy and Lawrence Ashe Professor of Law, discussed the constitutional aspects of the case. “The court not only found that the requirement to provide health insurance coverage that included these specific forms of birth control was a substantial burden to the free exercise of religion of the plaintiffs Hobby Lobby and Conastoga Wood, the court also added new elements to the test,” he said. “Now the government must use the least restrictive means available to achieve their goals.”

Anne Tucker, associate professor of law, spoke about the impact on corporate law. “The ruling applies to closely held corporations,” said Tucker. “However, closely held is not defined in the opinion leaving the precise definition to regulations or future litigation.  Additionally, the reasoning of the opinion could be applied to all corporations, even those that are publically traded.”
Tucker also expressed concern that the ruling could allow corporations to restrict who has the ability to invest or divest in a particular company based on the individual investor’s religious beliefs, creating the potential for discrimination.

Erin Fuse Brown, assistant professor of law, concluded with the potential consequences of the case on health law. “This case could potentially affect other areas of health.  What about vaccinations? Blood transfusions? Psychiatric drugs?  There are religions that object to each of these,” she said.  “The dissent points out this slippery slope, while the majority argues that an individual analysis of of the least restrictive means to address the government’s purpose may lead to different results for other covered health care services.”

Together, the panel presentations left the audience with a deeper understanding of the case and what to look for in the future, “In class, we are so focused on one area of the law at a time,” said Greg Tanner (J.D./M.S.H.A. ’16), co-president of the Student Health Law Association, an event co-sponsor. “This panel presentation from our own experts at Georgia State Law showed how different areas interact.”