WASHINGTON, July 10, 2014 — Senator Harry Reid has girded his withered loins to declare war on “five white men,” in the process declaring that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is white.
Reid, like President Obama, sees himself as the anti-Thomas: black on the inside, and possibly female. Were he not in the Senate, he could single-handedly host “The View.” He refuses to allow the lives of his sisters to be ruled by the Supreme Court, suggesting that he’s also discovered his inner conservative; conservatives have been chafing under the rule of the courts for decades.
Reid joins a growing chorus who, in the wake of Hobby Lobby, want to repeal or amend the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA). RFRA is the Clinton-era law that was passed unanimously by the House and almost unanimously by the Senate — when both were controlled by Democrats — and signed by President Clinton, and that formed the basis of the Supreme Court’s ruling that Hobby Lobby need not provide some contraceptives in its health insurance plans.
The constitutionality of RFRA has not been in question, though Justice Stevens wrote in his concurring opinion to City of Boerne v. Flores, “In my opinion, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) is a ‘law respecting an establishment of religion’ that violates the First Amendment to the Constitution.” RFRA protects religious institutions and individuals from undue imposition on their beliefs under the law, but does not apply to sincerely held secular beliefs. It can exempt you from some provisions of ObamaCare because you are a Mennonite, but not because you are a life-affirming humanist.
Extending RFRA to cover non-religious belief is probably not what Reid has in mind, and in any case, the region between religion and belief is one for the courts to explore. Reid clearly wants the law restricted, not expanded; he wants fewer people claiming exemptions, not more.
Among his options are to amend RFRA to restrict it to actual human beings, not corporations, or to exempt ObamaCare from its control. He might also try to repeal it, though even his own caucus would revolt if he tried.
Reid hasn’t specified what he plans to do, and as a practical matter, whatever he does won’t undo Hobby Lobby. Reid’s RFRA amendment will probably not pass the Senate, no matter what form it takes, and it will not pass the House. It is, however, an opportunity to milk the political situation and rally the troops. It is Harry Reid’s chance to be in bed with the entire membership of NOW.
It also allows Reid to scream his inner grief and rage at the Court in a more decorous way than Nebraska federal judge Richard Kopf, who wrote in his personal blog that the Hobby Lobby decision “looks stupid,” then dropped any pretense of judicial dignity: “Next term is the time for the Supreme Court to go quiescent — this term and several past terms has proven that the Court is now causing more harm (division) to our democracy than good by deciding hot button cases that the Court has the power to avoid. As the kids say, it is time for the Court to stfu.”
Harry Reid to Clarence Thomas: “STFU.”