June 4, 2018

Supreme Court Sides with Colorado Cake Baker

Masteriece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips
Reuters photo: Rick Wilking
Well throw me an Uncle Charlie.  I didn't see this one coming.

I have followed this matter (Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, No. 16-111) since before the case was heard before the Supreme Court.  The matter centered on a Colorado Cake Baker, Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips.  Mr. Phillips - on religious grounds - refused to create a custom wedding cake for a gay couple.

The gay couple then lodged a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission.  The commission ruled in favor of the gay couple, stating Mr. Phillips violated a state law baring discrimination based on sexual orientation.  Mr. Phillips appealed to state courts, which upheld the commission's ruling.

I listed to the Supreme Court's oral arguments, which to me appeared to be focused on (1) what is freedom of speech, and (2) what/who is an artist.  Based on the Justices' questioning, I felt strongly the Court would rule in favor of the gay couple, although not unanimously.  Justice Sotomayor's questioning, in particular, displayed affirmative support for the gay couple's argument.

But here comes the well throw me an Uncle Charlie interesting part.

The freedom of speech and definition of artist topics are not the Supreme Court's narrow ruling is based upon.  Rather, the Court's narrow ruling written by Justice Kennedy found that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission's ruling was both biased and demonstrated hostility toward religion.

As Justice Kennedy wrote:
“The neutral and respectful consideration to which Phillips was entitled was compromised here,” Justice Kennedy wrote. “The Civil Rights Commission’s treatment of his case has some elements of a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs that motivated his objection.”
As stated in this New York Times article about the decision,

"Though the case was mostly litigated on free speech grounds, Justice Kennedy’s opinion barely discussed the issue. Instead, he focused on what he said were flaws in the proceedings before the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. Members of the commission, he wrote, had acted with “clear and impermissible hostility” to sincerely held religious beliefs.
One commissioner in particular, Justice Kennedy wrote, had crossed the line in saying that “freedom of religion and religion has been used to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history, whether it be slavery, whether it be the Holocaust.”
Ouch. 

The Supreme Court’s decision does, however, strongly reaffirmed protections for gay rights and includes language asserting that other cases with similar issues could very well be decided differently.

About Mary Rae Fouts, EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides tax, insurance consulting, and expert witness services to clients who have technical or complex concerns.  For more information about Mary and her professional services visit FoutsFinancialGroup.com.

Mary Rae Fouts

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