Wednesday, January 11, 2012
I confess, I expected the usual "decision in late June," but I'll certainly take this: In an opinion for a unanimous Court, Chief Justice Roberts ruled in Hosanna-Tabor that the Constitution requires a ministerial exception, and that the exception applied in that case. Importantly, the Chief Justice rejected the idea -- it "misses the point," he said -- that a religious institution must assert a "religious reason" for an employment decision in order to trigger the Constitution's limits on government involvement in the selection of ministers. Also very important, I think, was the Court's clear rejection both of the Sixth Circuit's "count up the hours" approach to identifying "ministers" and its emphasis on the fact that the teacher in this case had "job duties" that "reflected a role in conveying the Church's message and carrying out its mission." In other words, the exception is clearly not limited to ordained clergy.
Many of us have blogged often about the case and the questions it raises. I'm sure the conversation will continue. Suffice it to say (for now) that, in my view, this decision is important, correct, and welcome.
UPDATE: Some more thoughts, here, at Bench Memos.
UPDATE: Here's my insta-punditry, at USA Today, about the case:
At a time when the elected branches of government seem divided and dysfunctional, and when candidates in primary elections struggle to magnify every disagreement, it was nice of the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice John Roberts, to remind us today that clear, efficient, consensus, and correct decisions about things that really matter are still possible . . .