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SCOTUS Rules for Baker in Masterpiece Case

By George Khoury, Esq. | Last updated on

This week, SCOTUS ruled in perhaps the most closely watched case this term, the Masterpiece Cakeshop case. The 7 to 2 ruling came down in favor of the baker who refused to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding. But that ruling was rather narrow, seeming to exclusively rest on the state's civil rights commission's hostility toward the baker's claim, rather than constitutional problems with the state's civil rights law.

It appears that the Court has completely avoided the question of whether the baker was in the right or not, instead finding the state civil rights commission was out of order. Naturally, a limited opinion in such a divisive case will likely lead to confusion. And Justice Ginsburg's short dissent, in which Justice Sotomayor joins, is sure to give pause to any readers.

Religious Hostility

The majority opinion reversed the decision of the Colorado Court of Appeals, which had upheld the state's Civil Rights Commission's decision in the matter, because of the commission's hostility toward religion. As seen at the oral argument, Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority, could not let go of what he viewed as open hostility from the commission toward the baker. The comment about the baker's use of religion being a "despicable piece of rhetoric," comparable to the holocaust, seemed to be a significant deciding factor in coloring Justice Kennedy's view of the commission's handling of the matter.

Dissent or Dessert

In Justice Ginsburg's dissent, she expresses confusion at how the Court ruled that the commission's hostility invalidates a de novo affirmation of the ruling by the state's appellate court, as well as the factual finding of the state's investigative division, and an independent ALJ's determination that the baker violated the state civil rights law.

The dissent points out a crucial distinction in the comparator cases cited by the majority. The majority found a few cases where the Civil Rights Commission upheld a baker's right to refuse to make a cake with an offensive message. However, Justice Ginsburg aptly pointed out that in those cases, the content of the message was the problem, not the identities of the persons seeking service.

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