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Supreme Court sidesteps major ruling in Masterpiece Cakeshop case

Justices cite hostility to religion by Colorado commission

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The Supreme Court issued a narrow decision for an anti-gay baker in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The U.S. Supreme Court sidestepped a major decision in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, issuing a narrow decision based on the facts of the lawsuit in favor of a Colorado baker sued for refusing to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

In the 7-2 decision written by U.S. Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Supreme Court vacated the decision by the Colorado Court of Appeals against baker Jack Phillips on the basis the state commission handling his case displayed a religious bias against him.

“When the Colorado Civil Rights Commission considered this case, it did not do so with the religious neutrality that the Constitution requires,” Kennedy writes.

Kennedy concluded his ruling by making clear it provides no precedent for cases in which individuals and businesses assert a First Amendment right to refuse service to same-sex couples, insisting that determination must come at a later time.

“The outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts, all in the context of recognizing that these disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market,” Kennedy wrote.

As evidence of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s hostility toward Phillips’ religious views, Kennedy cites language the commissioners used as they heard the case in 2014, including one commissioner’s words that religious views are “one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use.”

During oral arguments in the case before the Supreme Court, Kennedy has expressed concern over these words from the commission, prompting observers to speculate the court might issue a decision punting the case and remanding it for reconsideration without hostility toward religion.

In the decision, Kennedy writes those words from the commissioner demonstrates hostility toward Phillips’ religion both by describing as despicable and by characterizing it as merely rhetorical.

“This sentiment is inappropriate for a Commission charged with the solemn responsibility of fair and neutral enforcement of Colorado’s anti-discrimination law — a law that protects against discrimination on the basis of religion as well as sexual orientation,” Kennedy wrote.

The decision will likely mean the Colorado Civil Rights Commission will rehear the case, although there’s no reason to think the outcome will be different even if the commissioners approach it differently as advised by Kennedy.

It also means the long-running case against Masterpiece Cakeshop, filed by Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins back in 2012 when Phillips refused to make them a custom-made wedding cake, hasn’t reached its finish line at the Supreme Court and likely will continue to proceed.

After the couple sued six years ago, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission ruled in their favor in 2014 and the Colorado Court of Appeals upheld that decision a year later. Phillips filed a petition before the U.S. Supreme Court to review those rulings, which the Supreme Court accepted last year shortly after the confirmation of U.S. Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch.

Attorneys representing both sides in the case declared victory to some extent, with the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented the couple, insisting non-discrimination principles were upheld and Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented Phillips, calling the decision a victory for “religious freedom.”

Louise Melling, deputy legal director of the ACLU, said in a statement the Supreme Court essentially punted without making a sweeping decision.

“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,” Melling said.

Kristen Waggoner, who argued the case for Phillips before the Supreme Court as senior counsel to Alliance Defending Freedom, said in a statement the ruling was a win for her client.

“Government hostility toward people of faith has no place in our society, yet the state of Colorado was openly antagonistic toward Jack’s religious beliefs about marriage,” Waggoner said. “The court was right to condemn that. Tolerance and respect for good-faith differences of opinion are essential in a society like ours. This decision makes clear that the government must respect Jack’s beliefs about marriage.”

Joining Kennedy in the decision was U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts as well as U.S. Associate Justices Stephen Breyer, Samuel Alito, Elena Kagan, Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas. Dissenting in the ruling was U.S. Associate Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was joined by U.S. Associate Justice Sonia Sotamayor.

In her dissent, Ginsburg wrote the long process in which the case was reviewed by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission and appealed to the Colorado Court of Appeals should abrogate any concerns about religious liberty.

“I see no reason why the comments of one or two commissioners should be taken to overcome Phillips’ refusal to sell a wedding cake to Craig and Mullins,” Ginsburg writes. “The proceedings involved several layers of independent decision-making, of which the commission was but one.”

The decision means that a final determination from the court on whether individuals and businesses have a First Amendment right to discriminate against same-sex couples may come at a later time. That decision could result from a petition pending before the court in a similar case filed by Arlene’s Flowers, a floral shop in Washington State seeking a First Amendment right to refuse service to same-sex weddings.

Many predict Kennedy will step down from the bench at the end of this Supreme Court term. If that happens, the Supreme Court could issue a decision that makes precedent on this issue with whomever President Trump appoints to replace Kennedy. That justice could be an anti-LGBT pick as opposed to Kennedy, who has authored major gay rights decisions.

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Disney to require COVID-19 vaccinations for employees

We are requiring that all salaried and non-union hourly employees in the U.S. working at any of our sites be fully vaccinated

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Graphic courtesy of The Walt Disney Company

BURBANK – The Walt Disney Company sent a company-wide message to employees based in the United States that they must soon be fully vaccinated to come into the workplace. With Friday’s announcement Disney joined a growing number of American companies requiring a COVID-19 vaccination.

Disney said it will give all salaried and non-union hourly employees both vaccinated and unvaccinated who are on-site 60 days to provide verification of vaccination.

The company is having conversations around this topic with the unions representing their employees under collective bargaining agreements.

According to a company spokesperson, “This decision was based on the recommendations of scientists, health officials and medical professionals that vaccinations provide the best protection again COVID-19.”

“At The Walt Disney Co., the safety and well-being of our employees during the pandemic has been and continues to be a top priority,” according to a statement from Disney. “Toward that end, and based on the latest recommendations of scientists, health officials and our own medical professionals that the COVID-19 vaccine provides the best protection against severe infection, we are requiring that all salaried and non-union hourly employees in the U.S. working at any of our sites be fully vaccinated.

“Employees who aren’t already vaccinated and are working on-site will have 60 days from today (Friday) to complete their protocols and any employees still working from home will need to provide verification of vaccination prior to their return, with certain limited exceptions.”

The company also said all new hires would be required to be fully vaccinated before their employment begins.

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12 Republican Governors tell Supreme Court: Overturn Roe v. Wade

“The arguments made by the Mississippi Attorney General are chilling & pose a direct threat to the many members of the LGBTQ community […]”

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United States Supreme Court Building Washington D.C. (Blade File photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – In a brief filed Thursday by 12 Republican Governors, joined by 228 Republican members of the U.S. House in a separate brief, all are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the 1973 ruling of Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, which protects women’s reproductive rights to have an abortion without excessive government restriction.

This most recent push by Republicans comes as the high court is set to hear Mississippi’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case, based on the Mississippi law that bars most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. There are no provisions for rape or incest either. 

The Governors from Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Missouri, Montana, Oklahoma, Texas and South Carolina signed the brief.

The Court’s decisions in Roe […] are prime examples of invading an area that has not been committed to the Federal Government and remains reserved to the States,” the brief stated. In the brief submitted by House Republicans they argued that the high court should revisit the viability line established in its legal precedent set, because it “binds the States in a one-sided constitutional tug-of-war in which they are subject to intense factual scrutiny on the abortion advocates’ issues but unable to establish the factual basis for their own vital interests.”

SCOTUS Blog noted that oral arguments along with the briefs as submitted will center on whether all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional.

The arguments made by the Mississippi Attorney General are chilling and pose a direct threat to the many members of the LGBTQ community who have a vital interest in reproductive freedom and choice.  Substantial research has documented that lesbian youth, in particular, are at high risk of unwanted pregnancy due to sexual coercion and attempts to hide their sexual orientation,” Shannon Minter, the Legal Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), told the Blade Friday.

“And more broadly, the same groups and officials who are attempting to turn back the clock on women’s freedom are also seeking to roll back equality for our communities. Every LGBTQ person in this country has a stake in this case and in the ongoing battle for the fundamental right to make personal decisions free of government intrusion and control,” he added. 

A U.S. District Court blocked the law after the Jackson’s Women Health Center, the only remaining clinic in the state, brought the challenge arguing the law was a direct violation of the High Court’s precedent.

The primarily conservative leaning United States 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in December of 2019; “In an unbroken line dating to Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court’s abortion cases have established (and affirmed and re-affirmed) a woman’s right to choose an abortion before viability. States may regulate abortion procedures prior to viability so long as they do not ban abortions.”

The appellate court upheld the lower court and concluded that “the law at issue is a ban.” The 5th Circuit blocked enforcement of the law, finding it in conflict with Roe v. Wade and subsequent abortion decisions.

According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, abortion would remain legal in 21 states and would likely be prohibited in 24 states and three territories if Roe v. Wade is overturned, Axios reported. In 2018, an Axios-SurveyMonkey survey showed that the vast majority of Americans want to leave Roe v. Wade in place.

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President Biden announces new COVID rules for federal workers

Biden also urged private companies, manufacturers, and other corporations to get their employees vaccinated.

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President Biden delivers remarks on the next steps in his administration's effort to get more Americans vaccinated against Covid-19 and combat the spread of the Delta variant (Screenshot via NBC News YouTube)

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden announced in a press briefing in the East Room of the White House Thursday, he has ordered that millions of federal workers across the country will be required to verify they’ve been vaccinated against the coronavirus or else face mandatory masking, weekly testing, distancing and other new requirements.

The president also plead with “those Americans who are unvaccinated- please go get vaccinated.”

Biden also urged private companies, manufacturers, and other corporations to get their employees vaccinated. Speaking about mask requirements that are going to be reinstated as well, the president cited the revised guidance issued by the The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Tuesday.

The President said that he directed the Pentagon to look into adding the COVID-19 shot to its list of required vaccinations for members of the military. He then added that his administration will take steps to apply similar requirements to all federal contractors.

Biden citing the need to utilize funding from the American Rescue Plan, said that the various state and local governments should use those funds to incentivize vaccinations by offering $100 to individuals who get the shots. He also announced a federal program to fund reimbursements for small- and medium-sized businesses if they offer employees time off to get family members vaccinated.

Biden Delivers Remarks On Covid Vaccinations | NBC News WATCH:

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