Supreme Court Rulings Show What We Care About

Contraception, Unions and President Obama Dominate Docket

getty images

By J.J. Goldberg

Published July 05, 2014, issue of July 11, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Among the joys of late June, along with fine weather and happy children, is the annual opportunity to watch the Supreme Court close out its docket with a rush of last-minute rulings on the year’s toughest cases. It’s a grand national civics lesson that brings us together as few other events can do. It teaches us what issues most unite or divide us right now and which way the wind is blowing.

Besides, it’s fun. Everyone cheers their own side and heckles the other with a passion rivaling the Superbowl. And the heckling is as instructive as the rulings themselves. Court rulings tell us what ails the republic. The cheers tell us whether we care.

So what do we learn from this year’s Supreme Court wrapup? For starters, consider the four decisions handed down in the last two days of the term. The issues: abortion; unions and President Obama; contraception and President Obama; and unions.

Based on the public passions aroused by the decisions, here’s what we care about: reproduction and President Obama.

Here’s what we don’t care about: unions.

The two decisions issued on the second-to-last day were both unanimous, a fact that holds some fascinating lessons of its own. More on that later.

One case involved a Massachusetts law creating a 35-foot protest-free buffer zone around abortion clinics. The court, which has its own 250-foot buffer zone, decided unanimously that the abortion clinic buffer zone violates the First Amendment.

The next involved Obama’s recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board. Like thousands of recess appointments over the centuries, these were intended to get around the Senate’s refusal to confirm presidential nominees the usual way, by voting. However, unlike most stalled appointments, which mean more work for other employees, stalling NLRB appointments left the board without a quorum and unable to enforce labor law. Which was the Republicans’ intention.

To prevent recess appointments over Christmas, the Senate held a series of phony sessions in which senators went home but pretended to be working. The justices decided unanimously that Obama’s appointments were phony because they weren’t made during a Senate recess, as the Constitution dictates, but during a phony Senate session. The Senate can make up phony stuff. Obama can’t.

The two decisions on the last day were traditional 5-to-4 splits, five conservative justices against four liberals. In reality, they weren’t too different from the previous unanimous decisions. More on that later as well.

One case involved Hobby Lobby, a corporation whose owners refuse to give their employees health insurance covering certain birth-control methods mandated under Obamacare. They believe those methods resemble abortion, which their religion forbids. The court ruling, written by Justice Samuel Alito, essentially said they’re entitled to their beliefs, and they’re entitled to pretend that their corporation shares those beliefs. Alito dismissed any comparison between the government’s “compelling interest” in guaranteeing contraception coverage, despite religious objections, and any other compelling interests that might raise religious objections, like preventing racial discrimination or collecting taxes. Those others are really compelling interests. The Obamacare thing is about, you know, abortion. That’s different.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • Will you accept the challenge?
  • In the six years since Dothan launched its relocation program, 8 families have made the jump — but will they stay? We went there to find out:
  • "Jewish Israelis and West Bank Palestinians are witnessing — and living — two very different wars." Naomi Zeveloff's first on-the-ground dispatch from Israel:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.