The Court closed out OT 2016 on a high note by granting two highly anticipated cases. On June 26th, the oft-relisted (14 times to be precise), Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission was granted certiorari along with the consolidated cases of Trump v. Hawaii and Trump v. International Refugee Assistance Project. As we look toward the next term, here is a brief preview of these major cases.
Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission
This case originates from a Colorado baker who refused to create a wedding cake for a same-sex couple citing his religious beliefs. This refusal was found to be in violation of Colorado’s public accommodations law which prohibits discrimination against people based on sexual orientation. The issue is whether applying this law violates the free speech or free exercise clauses of the First Amendment by compelling him to create art in violation of his religious beliefs. The implications for this case are wide-reaching as 21 states have similar public accommodation laws and a ruling allowing a religious exemption to civil rights laws could potentially open up discrimination against other groups.
Kennedy’s vote will likely be crucial and this is potentially his last major gay rights case as rumors swirl of a 2018 retirement. Kennedy has authored all four of the majority opinions in the Court’s landmark rulings in gay rights. However, he has previously joined the majority in upholding religious exemptions in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. holding that the Christian family who owned the stores could refuse to provide the full range of contraceptives mandated by federal healthcare law to their employees.
Trump v. Hawaii/Trump v. International Refugee Assistance Project
These consolidated cases have taken an unconventional route to certiorari with the appearance of stays and accelerated briefing schedules to accommodate the time sensitive nature of the issue at hand. The heart of the controversy is the “Travel Ban,” an executive order temporarily banning individuals from six mainly-Muslim countries and refugees from entering the United States without a “credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity.” In the time since the first filings in these cases on June 1st, the Court has weighed in twice to provide clarification on the scope of the ban before oral argument has even been heard.
The first intervention allowed the ban to go into partial effect, carving out an exception for those with a “credible claim” to a relationship with an individual or an institution in the United States such as an immediate family member or student registered at a university. After further litigation regarding what constituted a sufficient relationship to create a “credible claim,” the Court once again intervened in July to hand a partial victory to both sides. The definition of close family was expanded to include family members such as grandparents, grandchildren, aunts and uncles, and siblings-in-law but the ban was left in place with regard to refugees. Justices Thomas, Alito, and Gorsuch would have upheld the ban in its entirety both times regardless of any personal connections. This case was among the first to be set for oral argument and is currently scheduled for October 10th.