Linda Greenhouse, a longtime legal correspondent and current columnist for the New York Times, is back with a new article opposing the legal claims of the Little Sisters of the Poor. It’s not the first time she has written such an article. It’s not even the first time she has used a pointless metaphor about storytelling to make her case. That’s alright: The case has been dragging on for years, and we’re all running out of new things to say. What’s less excusable is that it’s not the first time Greenhouse has made a simple, easily-checked mistake about the case in the course of accusing other people of misrepresentations.
Back in 2014, Greenhouse maintained that all the Obama administration was asking the Little Sisters to do was submit a “one-page form” noting that it had religious objections to covering employees’ contraception. She declared herself “baffled” that the nuns considered this requirement a violation of their conscience and that all nine justices of the Supreme Court had taken their complaint seriously. Maybe if she had read on to the second page of the “one-page form,” she would have solved the mystery: Page two proclaimed the form to be the “instrument” that triggered the requirement that a third-party administrator provide the coverage. The nuns didn’t want to be forced to take any action, including signing a form, that caused such coverage.
Today she is again saying that supporters of the Little Sisters aren’t being “accurate, not by a long shot.” She specifically mentions my recent Bloomberg Opinion column defending them.
Now her imaginary “one-page form” has become an equally imaginary zero-page form. “On the table when the Obama administration left office was a proposed accommodation under which religious nonprofits would not have to do anything — hands off, completely, nothing to sign, no forms to fill out — to have the insurer, with reimbursement by the government, provide ‘seamless’ contraception coverage.”
This is not true. In 2016, the Supreme Court instructed the Obama administration to consider whether it would be possible to require objecting employers to do nothing more than inform their insurance companies that they did not wish to provide contraceptive coverage (or certain types of contraceptive coverage). In January 2017, the administration issued an eleven-page memo saying: No. It was still, in the government’s mind, absolutely vital that the the objectors authorize the insurers’ coverage, in writing. That’s the same position that the state of Pennsylvania is taking in the present case: the position that Greenhouse is, in her at-best confused way, backing.
Legal advocacy may involve a certain amount of storytelling, as Greenhouse laboriously insists. Her advocacy has tipped over into fabulism.
P.S. The Becket Fund lawyer Greenhouse mentions in the new column is named “Rassbach,” not “Rossbach,” as she has it.