10 Essential Supreme Court Cases of Ruth Bader Ginsburg


Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, 2014

religious freedom supporters
Religious freedom supporters hold a rally in 2014 to praise the Supreme Court's decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. Scott Olson/Getty Images

The national arts-and-crafts chain known as Hobby Lobby consists of more than 500 stores with 13,000 employees and the Green family is the head of it all. What some customers may not know is that the Green's business is based around the principles of Christianity and run according to Biblical rules. According to those beliefs, the Greens deem the use of certain contraception, including Plan B and two different IUDs, immoral because they believe they cause abortions [source: Dockterman].

However, thanks to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), employment-based group health care plans are required to provide certain types of preventative care to employees — and that includes FDA-approved birth control methods. Exemptions were in place for religious employers and non-profit religious institutions, though those types of exemptions weren't meant for for-profit businesses like Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. [source: Oyez].

Knowing all this, you might expect to hear of an employee suing the company, but it turns out that in 2012, the Greens themselves, representing Hobby Lobby, sued the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, challenging the contraception requirement. They argued the requirement violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA). That Act "prohibits the "Government [from] substantially burden[ing] a person's exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability" unless the Government "demonstrates that application of the burden to the person (1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest" [source: LLI].

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of Hobby Lobby. That decision means that the U.S. government now cannot require employers provide insurance coverage for birth control if it conflicts with the employer's religious beliefs. In the majority opinion, Justice Alito argued that "the owners of the businesses have religious objections to abortion, and according to their religious beliefs the four contraceptive methods at issue are abortifacients."

Unsurprisingly, Ginsburg delivered an impassioned dissent, arguing that the ACA's contraceptive mandate served as the least restrictive way possible for the government to ensure women had access to contraception. She cited research conducted by the Guttmacher Institute, that predicted contraception would reduce unintended pregnancies and abortions in the U.S., and she argued that by exempting for-profit organizations, the government was preventing women from receiving contraceptive care and jeopardizing female employees' health and wellbeing [source: Gerais].