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BC Experts: Supreme Court Ruling on the Hobby Lobby Case

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PROFESSOR KENT GREENFIELD, BOSTON COLLEGE LAW SCHOOL
Office: 617-552-3167; cell: 781-454-8104;
email: kent.greenfield@bc.edu

Professor Greenfield is the author of The Myth of Choice and The Failure of Corporate Law. He’s an expert in constitutional law and corporate law, and clerked at the Supreme Court for Justice David Souter. Along with being a guest on CNN and MSNBC, Professor Greenfield has contributed to the New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, The Nation, The American Prospect, and legal publications such as the Yale Law Journal, the Virginia Law Review, the Harvard Law and Policy Review, and the George Washington Law Review. Professor Greenfield is also a frequent lecturer in both academic and public settings.

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ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR BRIAN QUINN, BOSTON COLLEGE LAW SCHOOL; (617) 552-2202 (o); 617-833-9423 (c); brian.quinn@bc.edu
Professor Quinn is an expert in corporations, mergers & acquisitions, and deals. Professor Quinn's research focuses on corporate law, mergers & acquisitions, and the structuring of transactions. Prior to entering the teaching profession, Professor Quinn was in private practice, representing public and private technology clients in merger and acquisitions transactions. In addition to academic writing, Professor Quinn blogs on current deals and legal developments related to mergers & acquisitions at the M&A Law Prof Blog (http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/mergers/). Professor Quinn has been widely quoted by a multitude of media entities, including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Boston Globe, Reuters, AP, Dow Jones Newswires, Bloomberg, Bloomberg TV, and The Business Insider.

 

 

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JUNE 30, 2014

In one of the most widely anticipated decisions at the crossroads of religion and government mandates, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that closely held companies do not have to provide their employees with birth control. The decision marks the first time the high court has ruled that for-profit businesses can have religious views under federal law.

“The court tried to say this is a narrow decision but it is not a narrow decision,” says Boston College Law Professor Kent Greenfield, an expert in corporate law and one of the principal authors of the amicus brief in the case. “Closely held companies are some of the largest held companies including Cargo, Dell, Price Waterhouse-Coopers, Koch Industries. Private companies are some of the largest companies in the country so this will have broad implications. In my view this is a very important opinion and will expand the ability of corporations to assert exemptions from otherwise applicable law. I think it didn’t go as far as one might have feared but it’s nevertheless a very significant opinion.”

“The bottom line is the court may not have given enough thought to the potential reach of what it says,” says Boston College Law Associate Professor Brian Quinn, a corporate law expert who also signed on to the amicus brief arguing that a victory for Hobby Lobby would be inconsistent with principles of corporate law.  “The opinion is written in a way to sound, at least initially, narrow, but if you look at it closely, it can be fairly expansive in terms of the granting of constitutional rights of the CEOs and Boards of Directors to speak on behalf of corporations. The Supreme Court has opened the door for lots of firms to walk through it and find religion if it is in their interests.”

The decision that pitted rights of women and the powers of employers came in the case of Hobby Lobby, an Oklahoma arts and crafts corporation that claimed its religious beliefs didn’t allow it to provide employee healthcare benefits under the Affordable Care Act that include contraceptives. The 5-4 ruling is seen as a victory for businesses who feel their religious beliefs are at odds with a government mandate.

“What the court writes and the biggest problem that they have is this narrowing which is to say this is only for closed corporations,” says Quinn, an expert on corporate law, mergers, and acquisitions. “What they’ve not said is, ‘What are the guidelines that stop a CEO and a board from having religion?’ There’s no reason, given the opinion, for an AT&T not to be able to exercise a religious view if it makes sense. The way corporations function, it’s the board that runs the show and the decision can open the door for any board to have a religious view for the corporation and to be protected for such view. So this is not just limited to just closely held corporations.”

The case initially posed the question of whether corporations can have a conscience, of whether they would be able to express religious preferences and cherry-pick laws they didn’t like. Greenfield says today’s decision is a troubling precedent.

“It does say closely held companies can assert the rights of conscience of their owners,” says Greenfield, author of The Failure of Corporate Law. “In effect it does say that at least some companies do have consciences and are persons for the purposes of religious freedoms.”

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Note to media: Contact information for additional Boston College faculty sources on a range of subjects is available at:  http://www.bc.edu/offices/pubaf/journalist/experts.html

 

Sean Hennessey
Boston College News & Public Affairs
617-552-3630 (o)
617-943-4323 (c)