Regardless of whether or not the 7-2 decision (in favor of Phillips) in this month’s Masterpiece Cakeshop ruling came as a surprise to you, it certainly made waves. Our own Erica Dubno covered this case in Lawline’sSCOTUS Preview 2018 and will present an overview of the decision later this year as part of November’s SCOTUS Week. Read on for three important takeaways from the Supremes’ decision earlier this month, as well as Ms. Dubno’s take on the case:
In the opinion, Justice Kennedy strongly reaffirmed that lesbian, gay, and bisexual people are entitled to equal dignity and protections. He wrote that it is “unexceptional that Colorado law can protect gay persons, just as it can protect other classes of individuals, in acquiring whatever products and services they choose on the same terms and conditions as are offered to other members of the public.”
The ruling was extremely narrow. “Masterpiece Cakeshop presented the Supreme Court with a clear conflict between religious freedom rights, protected by the First Amendment, and equal protection rights, protected by the Fourteenth Amendment,” said Ms. Dubno. “Rather than address the heart of the constitutional debate, the Court punted and decided the case on narrow fact-specific grounds.” Deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, Louise Melling, released a statement that also highlighted that narrowness: “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.” Despite the narrow ruling, its potential ramifications remain unclear. Melling also wrote this article comparing Obergefell to Roe after the decision was issued.
States may need to handle future cases such as Masterpiece with care. “At the same time, the religious and philosophical objections to gay marriage are protected views and in some instances protected forms of expression," Kennedy wrote. He went on to state that the “neutral and respectful consideration to which Phillips was entitled was compromised here,” and “the outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts,” indicating that there may be different outcomes in similar cases. “It is disheartening that the Supreme Court failed to tackle the compelling issue that is of considerable interest to most Americans. Although the matter was determined on very limited grounds, the decision will inevitably buoy advocates for religious freedom,” notes Dubno.