Religious Liberty Cases Show Importance of Trump Judicial Nominees

One of the hallmarks of the Trump Administration has been placing judges on the federal bench. As of June, President Trump had his 200th federal judicial nominee confirmed by the Senate. Notably President Trump has appointed two justices to the U.S. Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. One of the most lasting effects of these appointments has been the strengthening of religious liberty which has been under attack over the past several decades. In this past year’s term alone, the Court handed down 3 major victories for religious liberty in Espinoza v. Montana Dept. of Revenue, Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru, and Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania.

In a recent National Review article, Carrie Severino wrote:

The pattern is unmistakable: The Supreme Court has never been more protective of religious freedom in its history. Most of these cases were decided by a unanimous or supermajority vote of the justices. None of the last four Republican-appointed justices ever voted against these judgments of the Court.

In Espinoza, the Court held that states can't disqualify religious schools from receiving subsidies once the state has decided to subsidize private education. The decision has implications that reach far beyond the education system. As Diana Verm, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty explained:

There are all sorts of ways religious groups partner with the government. This means that governments can no longer use Blaine Amendments as the excuse to discriminate against groups that do good work because they are religious, including groups that shelter the homeless, prison ministries that fight recidivism, and soup kitchens and hospitals that serve the poor.

In Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Court held that the government can't control a religious school's discernment when deciding who teaches religious classes. The school has this power under what is known as the ministerial exception.

In Little Sisters of the Poor, the Court upheld the Trump Administration's religious and conscience exemptions to the Department of Health and Human Service's Obamacare contraceptive mandate. As Alexandra DeSanctis wrote for National Review:

This decision is certainly a gratifying one, especially after having watched for the last decade as government officials — first from the Obama administration and now from progressive state governments — repeatedly dragged religious employers to court for refusing to comply with the mandate. At the very least, it’s clear that the First Amendment protects religious believers from being made complicit in practices that they view as morally wrong[.]

What’s even more troubling about this particular violation of free exercise, though, is the nature of the policy in question. The contraceptive mandate, remember, never even passed through Congress; it was tacked onto Obamacare after its passage by ideologically motivated, progressive bureaucrats in the HHS Department, then vigorously defended by the Obama White House.

To hear more about theses cases and others decided by SCOTUS during the 2019-2020 term, join RNLA  for a Supreme Court roundup webinar on Friday, July 17th at 2:00 p.m. Eastern. Professor Josh Blackman and Daniel Blomberg, Senior Counsel at Becket Law will be making presentations. You can register for the webinar here.