In a closely watched case, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled most private companies that claim religious objections can refuse to provide birth control coverage to employees as required by Obamacare. In a 5-to-4 ruling opposed by all three women on the court, the justices ruled requiring “closely held corporations” to pay for contraception violates a federal law protecting religious freedom. The title “closely held corporation” applies to about 90 percent of U.S. businesses. The ruling concerned two companies, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, which objected to certain methods of birth control on religious grounds, claiming they are akin to abortion, despite scientific consensus to the contrary. In a biting dissent, Ruth Bader Ginsburg objected to what she called “a decision of startling breadth,” which could open the door for corporations to opt out of practically any law they say conflicts with their religious beliefs. White House spokesperson Josh Earnest responded to the ruling.
Josh Earnest: “Today’s decision jeopardizes the health of women who are employed by these companies. As millions of women know firsthand, contraception is often vital to their health and well-being. That’s why the Affordable Care Act ensures that women have coverage for contraceptive care, along with other preventative care, like vaccines and cancer screenings. We will work with Congress to make sure that any women affected by this decision will still have the same coverage of vital health services as everyone else.”
We’ll have more on the decision with Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, after headlines.
In a setback for public sector unions, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday in another 5-to-4 decision that thousands of home healthcare workers in Illinois do not need to pay fees to cover the costs of union bargaining. The court found requiring the workers to pay union costs violated their First Amendment rights. The decision does not affect private workers and leaves intact a precedent requiring public employees, like teachers, to pay union fees. Instead the justices considered the healthcare workers separately as “partial-public employees,” who work for individual patients but are paid by the state.
The United States is deploying another 300 U.S. troops to Iraq to protect the U.S. Embassy and other interests amidst an onslaught by Sunni militants. The Pentagon says the move brings the total U.S. troop presence in Iraq to 750. In an interview with Chinese television Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry criticized the U.S. occupation of Iraq.
John Kerry: “I am on record historically not only in saying that it was a grave mistake, but in running against the president who ordered it and offering an alternative. So I am hardly capable of ducking that squarely. Yes, I think it was a grave mistake, and I think we are still working through many of the problems associated with it even today. There’s a huge residual hangover, a cloud that hangs over the region, as a consequence of that decision.”
Israel has bombed more than 30 targets across Gaza and shot dead at least one Palestinian just hours after the bodies of three missing Israeli teenagers were found in the West Bank. The teens went missing 19 days ago, sparking a crackdown that has seen hundreds of Palestinians arrested and seven killed. On Monday, the teens were found dead near the city of Hebron; they had apparently been shot dead shortly after their capture. Israel has blamed Hamas, identifying two suspects it says are tied to the group. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed “Hamas will pay.” Israeli government spokesperson Mark Regev also blamed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Mark Regev: “Israel tonight mourns the three teenagers brutally murdered by the Hamas terrorists. And unfortunately, this atrocity is the direct result of the decision by President Abbas to unite with Hamas, allowing them to re-establish their presence in the West Bank. We call upon President Abbas to unequivocally and immediately break his alliance with Hamas. He can’t claim to be a partner in peace if he has a pact with these murderers of children.”
The Israeli military says it bombed Gaza in response to Palestinian rocket fire. Earlier today, forces killed a man they say was a Hamas militant who threw a grenade.
Ukraine has launched a renewed military assault on pro-Russian rebels in the eastern part of the country after suspending a 10-day ceasefire. Russia has condemned the end of the truce and blamed Ukrainian forces for an attack on a bus that killed a Russian journalist on Monday. Anatoly Klyan is the fifth journalist killed in Ukraine since fighting erupted in April.
President Obama says he will take executive action to reform the nation’s immigration system. Speaking Monday, Obama said he would no longer wait for Congress after Republican House Speaker John Boehner told him the House would not vote on immigration reform this year.
President Obama: “America cannot wait forever for them to act. And that’s why today I’m beginning a new effort to fix as much of our immigration system as I can on my own, without Congress. As a first step, I’m directing the secretary of homeland security and the attorney general to move available and appropriate resources from our interior to the border. Protecting public safety and deporting dangerous criminals has been and will remain the top priority, but we are going to refocus our efforts where we can to make sure we do what it takes to keep our borders secure.”
Obama’s remarks come as he has asked Congress for fast-track authority and additional funding to speed up the deportation of children fleeing violence and poverty in Central America. Obama has already deported about two million immigrants, more than any other president in U.S. history.
A U.S. appeals court has reinstated a lawsuit by four former Iraqi prisoners who say they were tortured with sexual violence, electrical shocks and beatings at Abu Ghraib prison. The lawsuit accuses employees of the private military contractor CACI International of ordering military staff to torture prisoners in order to weaken them for questioning. A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit last year, saying he did not have jurisdiction, but Monday’s decision reinstates the lawsuit and sends it back to that judge.
General Motors is recalling another 8.4 million vehicles, most of them for ignition switch problems that can lead cars to suddenly shut down. GM says the vehicles have been involved in at least three deaths. In total, GM has now recalled more than 29 million vehicles in North America this year, more than the entire industry last year. Earlier on Monday, Kenneth Feinberg, who was hired by GM to handle victim compensation, said the company would pay at least $1 million for each person who died as a result of a previous ignition switch flaw tied to at least 13 and perhaps hundreds of deaths.
In Chile, a court has ruled that U.S. military intelligence services played a “fundamental” role in the 1973 killings of two Americans in the days after Augusto Pinochet seized power in a U.S.-backed coup. The court ruling, released Monday, finds former U.S. Navy Captain Ray Davis, who was then commander of the U.S. military mission in Chile, gave Chilean officials information that led to the deaths of journalist Charles Horman and student Frank Teruggi. Davis died last year in Chile, where he lived even as a Chilean court approved his extradition, believing he was in Florida. Charles Horman’s widow Joyce Horman told the Associated Press she was “delighted” to see the case moving ahead but “outraged” that “through death and delay, a key indicted U.S. official, Captain Ray Davis, has escaped this prosecutorial process.” (Watch our interview with Joyce Horman last year around the 40th anniversary of the killings and the coup.)
Argentina has missed a deadline for repaying its debts after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling put it on track for a possible default. Last month, the court sided with U.S. hedge funds who purchased Argentina’s debt for bargain prices after its financial crisis and then refused to cut the value of their holdings, as most other creditors did. A U.S. judge then barred Argentina from repaying the majority of its creditors without also repaying the so-called “vulture funds,” which are led by billionaire Paul Singer’s NML Capital. The Organization of American States will hold an emergency meeting on the crisis this week after it was requested by Argentine representative Julio César Ayala.
Julio César Ayala: “There is no international legal precedence for the restructuring of sovereign debt. Today, Argentina is under siege. However, any country that may face a future debt restructuring could be in the same dilemma. Even if 99.9 percent of voluntary compliance with the debt exchange, the 0.01 percent of bondholders would be in the position to invalidate the entire restructuring.”
France’s largest bank has agreed to pay a record $8.9 billion and plead guilty to criminal charges for violating U.S. economic sanctions. Officials say BNP Paribas engaged in an elaborate scheme over the course of at least a decade to hide billions of dollars in transactions with clients in Cuba, Iran and Sudan. The penalty also involves a year-long ban on some transactions.
In an environmental victory, New York’s highest court has upheld the right of local towns and cities to ban the controversial drilling technique known as fracking. Fracking is currently barred statewide under a 2008 moratorium, but more than 75 towns have blocked it in case New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo lifts the ban. Fracking involves blasting chemicals into cracks in shale rock to extract oil and gas, a process critics warn can poison water supplies, destroy land and fuel climate change.