Tuesday, June 28, 2016

"[T]hose who value religious freedom have cause for great concern"

The Supreme Court has decided not to grant a writ of certiorari to hear the appeal of the 9th Circuit's decision in Stormans v. Washington State. From Justice Alito's dissent:
....As I discuss below, Ralph’s has made a strong case that the District Court got it right, and that the regulations here are improperly designed to stamp out religious objectors. The importance of this issue is underscored by the 38 national and state pharmacist associations that urge us to hear the case. The decision below, they tell us, “upheld a radical departure from past regulation of the pharmacy industry” that “threatens to reduce patient access to medication by forcing some pharmacies—particularly small, independent ones that often survive by providing specialty services not provided elsewhere—to close.” .... Given the important First Amendment interests at stake and the potentially sweeping ramifications of the decision below, I would grant certiorari.

At issue are Washington State regulations that are likely to make a pharmacist unemployable if he or she objects on religious grounds to dispensing certain prescription medications. There are strong reasons to doubt whether the regulations were adopted for—or that they actually serve—any legitimate purpose. And there is much evidence that the impetus for the adoption of the regulations was hostility to pharmacists whose religious beliefs regarding abortion and contraception are out of step with prevailing opinion in the State. Yet the Ninth Circuit held that the regulations do not violate the First Amendment, and this Court does not deem the case worthy of our time. If this is a sign of how religious liberty claims will be treated in the years ahead, those who value religious freedom have cause for great concern. ....

...Washington would rather have no pharmacy than one that doesn’t toe the line on abortifacient emergency contraceptives. Particularly given the State’s stipulation that “facilitated referrals do not pose a threat to timely access” to such drugs...it is hard not to view its actions as exhibiting hostility toward religious objections. ....

“The Free Exercise Clause commits government itself to religious tolerance, and upon even slight suspicion that proposals for state intervention stem from animosity to religion or distrust of its practices, all officials must pause to remember their own high duty to the Constitution and to the rights it secures.” .... Ralph’s has raised more than “slight suspicion” that the rules challenged here reflect antipathy toward religious beliefs that do not accord with the views of those holding the levers of government power. I would grant certiorari to ensure that Washington’s novel and concededly unnecessary burden on religious objectors does not trample on fundamental rights. I respectfully dissent. [more]
Justice Alito's dissent was joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Thomas. The votes of four were needed for the Court to have heard the case.