No. 16-111; Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd., et al. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, et al.

The Facts:

In 2012, Respondents Charlie Craig and David Mullins visited Petitioner Masterpiece Cakeshop, a Colorado bakery, to request that its owner, Jack Phillips, create a cake for their same-sex wedding.  Phillips, a practicing Christian, declined their request, explaining that he would not make a custom wedding cake for them on account of his religious beliefs.  The Respondents filed a claim against Masterpiece Cakeshop alleging violation of Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act – a law which bars businesses from discriminating based on sexual orientation.

Question Presented:

Whether applying Colorado’s public-accommodation law to compel artists to create expression that violates their sincerely-held religious beliefs about marriage violates the Free Speech or Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment.

Of Note in this Case: 

  • The Court re-listed the petition 18 times before finally granting certiorari.
  • Women will argue on each side of the issue – Kristen Waggoner from Alliance Defending Freedom for Petitioners and Ria Tabacco Mar from the ACLU for the individual Respondents.
  • Lines to get into the courthouse for oral argument began forming a week in advance.
  • The Trump administration filed a brief in support of Masterpiece Cakeshop. It also participated in oral argument.

Petitioners’ Arguments in Support of Reversal:

  • Phillips and Masterpiece argue that his cakes constitute expressive art and forcing a sale to the Respondents would violate Phillips’ deeply-held religious values and his right to free expression. In their merits brief, Petitioners allege that a sale would threaten “his and all likeminded believers’ freedom to live out their religious identity in the public square,” including the “expressive freedom of all who create art or other speech for a living.”

Respondents’ Arguments in Support of Affirmance:

  • The individual Respondents and the State of Colorado believe that the law does not impinge on Phillips’ right to exercise his religion because the Court has previously ruled that free-exercise rights “
    [do] not include a right to disobey neutral and generally applicable laws, including non-discrimination laws.” Respondents also allege that “no reasonable observer would understand the Company’s provision of a cake to a gay couple as an expression of its approval of the customer’s marriage, as opposed to its compliance with a non-discrimination mandate.”

Oral Argument:

Like numerous cases over the prior three terms, Masterpiece Cakeshop is likely to hinge on the vote of Justice Anthony Kennedy, who initially seemed sympathetic to the same-sex couple during oral arguments.

SCOTUSblog’s Amy Howe has more:

Kennedy seemed to acknowledge the impact that a ruling for the baker could have for gays and lesbians. He told Solicitor General Noel Francisco, who argued on behalf of the United States in support of Masterpiece Cakeshop, that if the baker were to win, he could put up a sign indicating that he would not bake cakes for same-sex couples. That, Kennedy suggested, would be “an affront to the gay community.”

A decision is expected in the last week of June, 2018.