SCOTUS rules for baker in wedding cake case

Decision narrowly focused on specifics, does not set precedent on LGBTQ rights

WASHINGTON — On Monday, the US Supreme Court set aside a lower court ruling against a baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

According to NBC Chicago, the court did not rule on whether or not businesses have the right to refuse service to gay and lesbians.

From NBC Chicago:

The justices’ limited ruling Monday turns on what the court described as anti-religious bias on the Colorado Civil Rights Commission when it ruled against baker Jack Phillips. The justices voted 7-2 that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission violated Phillips’ rights under the First Amendment.

Justice Anthony Kennedy says in his majority opinion that the issue “must await further elaboration.” Appeals in similar cases are pending, including one at the Supreme Court from a florist who didn’t want to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding.

NPR reported that Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented. The court’s four most conservative justices, including Chief Justice John Roberts, concurred with the decision offering different rationales for the future, the network said.

From NPR:

Kennedy went out of his way to say that decisions on specific cases in the future may well be different.

“The outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts, all in the context of recognizing that these disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue respect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market,” Kennedy said.

The case is MASTERPIECE CAKESHOP, LTD., ET AL v. COLORADO CIVIL RIGHTS COMMISSION. The opinion can be read at SCOTUSBlog.

NBC reported that similar cases are making their way through the lower courts. The TV network said the Supreme Court gave little guidance to the lower courts about how to balance religious liberty and protecting LGBTQ civil rights.

We will be updating this post throughout the day.

UPDATE 6/4/2018 11:00a.m.: An analysis by Vox went into the details of the decision. It said that the Court was hyperfocused on the specific situation in the Colorado case:

From Vox:

In short, the Court found that while the state’s interests in banning anti-LGBTQ discrimination “could have been weighed against Phillips’ sincere religious objections in a way consistent with the requisite religious neutrality that must be strictly observed,” the state commission did not do that, because it showed signs of hostility, in the Court’s view, toward Phillips and his religious beliefs. So the state could, in theory, prevent discrimination like Phillips’s, but it has to do it in a way that respects people’s religious beliefs — which, the Court concluded, the commission did not do here.

Again, the Court’s hyper-focus on the specific circumstances of the Colorado commission and Phillips’s particular case makes it very difficult to say if this will set much of a precedent in similar cases related to anti-LGBTQ discrimination. As Slate writer Mark Joseph Stern noted, “Very fact-bound, and won’t really help the lower courts as they grapple with nearly identical cases.”

In fact, Kennedy was explicit about this in his ruling: “The outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts, all in the context of recognizing that these disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.”

Still, the ruling is a loss for LGBTQ advocates, who hoped to make it clear that the kind of discrimination Masterpiece Cakeshop was attempting should not be tolerated under state laws against anti-LGBTQ discrimination.

“The court reversed the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision based on concerns unique to the case but reaffirmed its longstanding rule that states can prevent the harms of discrimination in the marketplace, including against LGBT people,” said Louise Melling, deputy legal director of the ACLU, in a press release.

“Today’s decision means our fight against discrimination and unfair treatment will continue,” said Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins, client in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case. “We have always believed that in America, you should not be turned away from a business open to the public because of who you are. We brought this case because no one should have to face the shame, embarrassment, and humiliation of being told ‘we don’t serve your kind here’ that we faced, and we will continue fighting until no one does.”

UPDATE 6/4/2018 11:06a.m.: Equality Illinois is planning a rally in the Federal Plaza, Dearborn and Adams, Chicago in protest of the decision. The rally is at 5:30 p.m. Central Time. More rallies will be listed as we hear about them. For information on the EI rally, go to https://www.facebook.com/events/209837373144438/.

EI said in a press release that the Court had missed an opportunity to reaffirm protections for LGBTQ people. “We call on Gov. Bruce Rauner and his administration and Illinois Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan to vigorously uphold Illinois anti-discrimination statutes,” Brian C. Johnson, CEO of EI, said in the statement. “We cannot let any misreadings of this decision hurt the progress Illinois has made to protect LGBTQ civil rights.”

The organization said the decision was about more than wedding cake. “Rulings against public accommodations laws could legalize anti-LGBTQ discrimination from cradle to grave. A hotel in Danville could turn away a gay couple. A restaurant in Rockford could refuse to serve a lesbian couple. A hospital in Moline could prevent a same-sex partner from visiting their loved one. A paramedic in Edwardsville could refuse to provide life-saving care. And a funeral home in Oak Park could refuse to prepare the body of a transgender person for burial. We already see some of these actions happening in states without anti-discrimination protections,” the press release stated.

Update 11:40 a.m.: More analysis from NPR.

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