Could Citizens United and a semicolon undo Obamacare?

Could Citizens United and a semicolon undo Obamacare?

Next Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear two cases related to the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, and the stakes are high for both sides. In fact, the interpretation of a semi-colon in the context of the First Amendment could play a critical role.

The semi-colon’s use was argued in the appeals court decision that led one of the two cases to the Supreme Court’s doorstep.

“Appellants also argue that Citizens United is applicable to the Free Exercise [of religion] Clause because ― the authors of the First Amendment only separated the Free Exercise Clause and the Free Speech Clause by a semi-colon, thus showing the continuation of intent between the two,” said circuit judge Robert Cowen in the Conestoga Wood appeals court decision. “We are not persuaded that the use of a semi-colon means that each clause of the First Amendment must be interpreted jointly.”

In other words, the semi-colon argument holds that the free exercise of religion and free exercise of speech are linked. Since the Citizens United case gave corporations the same free speech rights as people, the argument states that corporations should have the same free religious exercise rights as people, too, and they should be able to opt out of Obamacare.

Judge Cowen didn’t agree with the logic, but now the issue is one of several that will be argued in front of the Supreme Court on Tuesday.


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