Archive | ERISA

Amicus Brief in Religious Exemption Case

I thought I’d pass along two briefs that the UCLA First Amendment Amicus Brief Clinic has filed in the last few weeks. One, on behalf of the Becket Fund, is in Overall v. Ascension Health (E.D. Mich.). My students Nate Barrett, Garry Padrta, and Paulette Rodriguez-Lopez worked on the brief, and Daniel P. Dalton of Dalton & Tomich was kind enough to serve as local counsel (many thanks to him for that!). I quote the brief below, for those who want to read it on the blog, though you can also find a PDF here. (The other brief is quoted in this post.)

Please note that, in all Clinic cases, the students, local counsel, and I act as advocates for the client. We are making the best arguments we can for the position we are taking; we are not necessarily endorsing it as the position that we think the law ought to take. (Sometimes you can tell from past posts of mine that I do personally agree with that position, but you should not draw such an inference simply from the filing of the brief.) I should also note that the amicus briefs are designed to be read alongside the parties’ briefs, so they naturally omit much of the factual and procedural background that the parties’ briefs make clear; my apologies if, as a result, some of the material is therefore opaque to other readers.

Summary of Argument

Out of respect for religious freedom, legislatures have long provided religious groups with exemptions from generally applicable laws. This tradition continues to this day, with a vast range of state and federal statutes providing various exemptions for religious institutions or religious believers.

Plaintiff’s Establishment Clause logic puts such exemptions in jeopardy unless they are made available to secular claimants

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Labor Department Extends ERISA Protections to Same-Sex Spouses

The effect of United States v. Windsor continues to ripple through federal law, expanding by leaps and bounds the rights and protections afforded to same-sex spouses.  The effect has been magnified by a friendly federal bureaucracy under the Obama administration, which is widely adopting a place-of-celebration rule for recognizing same-sex marriages under federal laws using words like “spouse” and “marriage,”  thus extending federal recognition to same-sex spouses even if they live in states that don’t themselves recognize their marriages. 

The latest installment in this story is the announcement today by the Labor Department that henceforth it will interpret the Employee Retirment and Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), which governs most private pension and health plans, to include same-sex as well as opposite-sex spouses.

[T]he term “spouse” will be read to refer to any individuals who are lawfully married under any state law, including individuals married to a person of the same sex who were legally married in a state that recognizes such marriages, but who are domiciled in a state that does not recognize such marriages. Similarly, the term “marriage” will be read to include a same-sex marriage that is legally recognized as a marriage under any state law.

The Department defended its decision to adopt a place-of-celebration rule rather than a place-of-domicile rule based on its reading of Windsor and policy considerations, like a need for uniformity and certainty in coverage of employees who move from one state to another.

This is the most natural reading of those terms; it is consistent with Windsor, in which the plaintiff was seeking tax benefits under a statute that used the term “spouse”; and a narrower interpretation would not further the purposes of the relevant statutes and regulations. . . .  

A rule that recognizes marriages that are valid in

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