TPM Cafe: Opinion

In the wake of Monday’s Supreme Court Hobby Lobby decision, critics — me included — have warned that Hobby Lobby’s claim is a slippery slope. If religious employers can opt out of providing birth control coverage based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), what will stop denials of other health care benefits on religious grounds? What about blood transfusions, vaccinations and psychiatric benefits? Beyond health care, can corporate heads simply refuse to abide by laws prohibiting discrimination based on race or sexual orientation if the laws counter their religious convictions?

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Is the Tea Party on its last legs or still a powerful force in the Republican Party? Preoccupied with this question, the Beltway political media has for months cycled through dizzying gyrations, all along managing to miss the big picture.

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Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a bill designed to protect the right to vote and fight racial discrimination in education, employment and public facilities. It was a hard-fought historic accomplishment, one that changed lives and made the promise of democracy more real.

Yesterday also marked another twist in the farcical campaign to be Mississippi’s Republican nominee for U.S. Senate, and it shows how far we still have to go.

Calling the recent runoff election a “sham,” candidate Chris McDaniel asked supporters to fund a legal challenge to overturn the election results. “"Thanks to illegal voting from liberal Democrats, my opponent stole last week’s runoff election,” said a McDaniel campaign email to supporters.

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In True the Vote’s complaint, it asks for review of the poll books (looking apparently for voters who both voting in the Democratic primary a few weeks earlier and the Republican primary). I agree that if the campaign (or True the Vote or someone else) could show that more than 6,700 people voted in both primaries, that could be grounds for a court to order a new election in the #MSSEN Cochran-McDaniel case. (So far I have not seen public evidence of the alleged thousands of such voters already uncovered.)

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Last week in Macon, Georgia, a man was attempting to holster his pistol and accidentally shot himself in the penis. The story quickly became a national one with many blogs and comments focusing on the apparent humor of shooting oneself between the legs. Much hilarity ensued on the Web, particularly after it was discovered that the gentleman had driven himself to a friend’s house before he even noticed the injury.

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Stepping back a moment from the complex legal, social and economic implications of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, I am struck by the decision’s central role in the culture wars of the early 21st century. Think about it: a large swath of conservative Christendom has convinced itself (and its allies in the Republican Party) that the maintenance of religious liberty depends on a for-profit company’s ability to avoid any remote complicity in the supply of contraceptive services that according to an exotic and extra-scriptural theory of human life might risk the further development of a microscopic zygote.

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A reporter emailed me a question shortly after upstart David Brat defeated House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in the recent Republican primary election for Virginia’s seventh district: When, he asked, was the last time someone like Cantor had lost a primary? Possible answers to this question indicate three very different ways of thinking about the significance of the Cantor defeat for the Republican Party and its likely future.

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Given how often it has been left for dead, the Tea Party has had a pretty heady few months. Just when it seemed that long-serving solid Republican incumbents would avoid losing primary fights to Tea Party identified candidates, Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran was forced into a run-off he barely won, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor surprisingly lost his primary by a large margin to a poorly funded college professor backed by grassroots Virginia Tea Partiers.

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On Monday, the Supreme Court of the United States sided with the right to work movement and weakened the ability of hundreds of thousands of U.S. domestic workers to collectively bargain for higher wages. In its 5-4 ruling on Harris v. Quinn, the Court held it is a violation of the First Amendment for the state of Illinois to assess dues on home care workers for the purposes of paying for collective bargaining efforts. This decision affects the several states who have in-home care programs like Illinois’s program, including California, Oregon, Washington, Massachusetts, and Missouri.

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