At the time, the Supreme Court nominee said that the Obama Administration was getting in the way of their right to exercise their religious views and opposition to abortion. Gorsuch outlined a broad definition of religious freedom that could point to how he would rule in similar cases regarding abortion if confirmed by the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court ultimately sided with Hobby Lobby and the Court ruled that companies like it can be exempt from the Obama abortion mandate. Gorsuch sided with Hobby Lobby in 2013, writing, “The ACA’s mandate requires them to violate their religious faith by forcing them to lend an impermissible degree of assistance to conduct their religion teaches to be gravely wrong.”
Today, Judge Gorsich said that his job was to correctly apply the law.
“Opponents of your nomination do not like this result,” pro-life Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah told Gorsuch. “They accuse you of being anti-woman. That, of course, isn’t true at all and any fair person would have to conclude it’s not true. Your critics simply demand that, as a judge, you must follow their political priorities that availability of birth control is more important than religious freedom.”
“I have two questions about your decision,” Hatch said. “Isn’t that really a policy dispute that should be addressed by Congress, and was your job on these cases to impose your or anyone else’s priorities or to interpret and apply those statutes the way Congress enacted them?”
Gorsuch responded, according to a transcript of the remarks: “Senator, our job there was to apply the statute as best we could understand its purpose as expressed in its text. And I think every judge who faced that case – everyone – found it a hard case and did their level best. And that’s all any judge can promise or guarantee. I respect all of my colleagues who addressed that case.”
Hatch said he appreciated Gorsuch upholding the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and “vindicating the nation’s longstanding aspiration to serve as the refuge of religious tolerance.”
“In other words, Congress enacted the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to apply broadly and robustly to ensure that among other things, the little guy would be protected as much as the big one,” said Hatch. “Is it fair to say that the Court’s decision in Hobby Lobby and your concurring opinion upheld this purpose and in doing so effectively promoted religious tolerance?”
Gorsuch said the law has a wide protection for religious liberties.
He said: “It applied to a Muslim prisoner in Oklahoma who was denied a halal meal,” he said. “It’s also the same law that protects the rights of a Native American prisoner who was denied access to his prison sweat lodge it appeared, solely in retribution for a crime that he committed and it was a heinous crime. But it protects him, too. And I wrote those decisions as well, Senator, yes. I wrote the – the Native American prisoner case and I participated in and I wrote a concurrence in the Muslim prisoner case.”
He also argued in his own separate opinion that the individual owners and directors also had valid religious freedom claims.
All of us face the problem of complicity. All of us must answer for ourselves whether and to what degree we are willing to be involved in the wrongdoing of others. For some, religion provides an essential source of guidance both about what constitutes wrongful conduct and the degree to which those who assist others in committing wrongful conduct themselves bear moral culpability. The Green family members are among those who seek guidance from their faith on these questions. Understanding that is the key to understanding this case. As the Greens explain their complaint, the ACA’s mandate requires them to violate their religious faith by forcing them to lend an impermissible degree of assistance to conduct their religion teaches to be gravely wrong. No one before us disputes that the mandate compels Hobby Lobby and Mardel to underwrite payments for drugs or devices that can have the effect of destroying a fertilized human egg. No one disputes that the Greens’ religion teaches them that the use of such drugs or devices is gravely wrong.
Gorsuch also sided with the Little Sisters of the Poor, defending the rights of nuns not to be forced to pay for abortion-inducing drugs in their health care plans.
He joined a dissenting opinion written to side with the Little Sisters that read: “When a law demands that a person do something the person considers sinful, and the penalty for refusal is a large financial penalty, then the law imposes a substantial burden on that person’s free exercise of religion.”
“All the plaintiffs in this case sincerely believe that they will be violating God’s law if they execute the documents required by the government. And the penalty for refusal to execute the documents may be in the millions of dollars. How can it be any clearer that the law substantially burdens the plaintiffs’ free exercise of religion?” the opinion added.
In Gorsuch’s words, the law “doesn’t just apply to protect popular religious beliefs: it does perhaps its most important work in protecting unpopular religious beliefs, vindicating this nation’s long-held aspiration to serve as a refuge of religious tolerance.”
In fact, as the Washington Post noted, “Gorsuch’s opinions favoring the owners of the Hobby Lobby craft stores and the nonprofit religious group Little Sisters of the Poor took the same sort of broad reading of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as the Supreme Court’s conservative majority.”