Friday, January 24, 2014

Two Short Posts On Legal Stuff and Courts: The Munoz Case And Little Sisters of the Poor

First, and most importantly:

A Texas judge ordered life support removed from a pregnant Haltom City woman who has been kept alive at John Peter Smith Hospital against the wishes of her family.
State District Judge R. H. Wallace ordered the county-owned hospital to discontinue providing life-sustaining measures to Marlise Muñoz, 33, who has been hospitalized since just before Thanksgiving after she was stricken by a pulmonary embolism when she was 14 weeks pregnant.
The family went to court earlier today seeking to have that life support be removed after the county hospital declined to do so. Wallace ordered that life support be removed by 5 p.m. Monday.
A court document filed shortly before the hearing was set to begin states that Marlise Muñoz is 22 weeks pregnant, that she met the clinical criteria for brain death on Nov. 28.
This week, attorneys for the Muñoz family released a statement saying that medical records indicate that the fetus is “distinctly abnormal,” with lower extremities deformed, and suffers from a number of other serious health conditions including water on the brain and heart problems.
I have not written much about this case for several reasons (including the inappropriateness of forcing a public debate over  the private grief of one family, the awfulness of the idea that even dead women can be used for something, the clear prioritizing of the embryo or fetus over everything in this case, including the wishes of the widower and the wishes he reported his wife had, combined with the obvious question of whether a fetus can incubate inside a dead body for any amount of time, even after the woman was without oxygen for long enough to become brain-dead and so on).  But clearly the Texas laws need rewriting.

Second, the Little Sisters of the Poor case:

 The Supreme Court on Friday extended a temporary order from Justice Sonia Sotomayor barring the Obama administration from enforcing a part of the Affordable Care Act against an order of nuns.
The health law requires most employers to provide insurance coverage for contraception. The nuns of the Little Sisters of the Poor said the requirement is offensive to their religious beliefs.
An accommodation allowing them to opt out of the requirement — by issuing a certification to an insurance company to offer the coverage independently — also made them complicit in immoral conduct, the nuns said.
In an order Friday, the Supreme Court said that the administration must not enforce the contraceptive coverage requirement against the nuns while the case is pending before a federal appeals court. In addition, the Supreme Court said that the Little Sisters “need not use the form prescribed by the government” to qualify for an exemption.

On Dec. 31, just hours before the requirement took effect, Justice Sotomayor had temporarily blocked enforcement of that part of the law against the nuns and some affiliated groups.
According to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents the nuns and other challengers to the requirement, preliminary injunctions had been granted in the lower courts in almost all of 20 similar cases. Justice Sotomayor acted after the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, in Denver, declined to issue an injunction.
The nuns, who operate nursing homes for poor people in the United States and around the world, provide health benefits to employees through a “church plan” that is exempt from federal regulations that apply to most employer-sponsored insurance, the administration said. The nuns, their health plan and the company that administers the plan will not be required to cover birth control, the administration said in urging the Supreme Court to dissolve Justice Sotomayor’s stay.
The Little Sisters “need only self-certify that they are nonprofit organizations that hold themselves out as religious and have religious objections to providing coverage for contraceptive services,” the administration said on Jan. 3 in a brief filed with the Supreme Court by Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr.
A lawyer for the nuns disagreed.
“The government demands that the Little Sisters of the Poor sign a permission slip for abortion drugs and contraceptives, or pay millions in fines,” said the lawyer, Mark L. Rienzi, of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. “The sisters believe that doing that violates their faith, and that they shouldn’t be forced to divert funds from the poor, elderly and dying people they’ve devoted their lives to serve.”

As far as I can tell, extending the stay in this case is normal, until the case is presented to the Supreme Court.  Also as far as I can tell, the case is about whether filling a form is offensive to the moral beliefs of the nuns.

The wider connections I'm thinking about are questions having to do with wars and other forms of legal governmental killing.  Those are morally offensive to many religious and non-religious people, but there is no real way of avoiding paying for those from our taxes.

Then there's the general question if it ever should matter what the religions of the Justices at the bench of the Supreme Court might be.  I don't have an answer to that question, by the way.

But  right now six of the nine Justices are Catholic and three are Jewish which makes those religious groups pretty over-represented, when viewed in terms of the population percentages.  I'm not arguing that the Justices would let their religions affect the decisions or that we should apply a religious test to the nominees to SCOTUS.  Still,  thinking about possible answers to this question is useful when many of the cases coming up concern one particular religion.

Read more here: