In October, in partnership with the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, and the Mississippi Center for Justice, we submitted an amicus (“friend of the court”) brief in support of the Respondents in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd., et al. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, et al.
Five years ago, Respondents Charlie Craig and David Mullins visited Masterpiece Cakeshop in Denver, Colorado to order a cake for their wedding, but were denied service by the shop’s owner, Jack Phillips, who claimed that baking a wedding cake for a same-sex couple went against his Christian beliefs. In response, the couple filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission under the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act. The Commission, and later the Colorado Court of Appeals, ruled in favor of the couple, but Phillips appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court, which refused to hear the case. The Petitioners then appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States, which agreed to hear the case next month.
Phillips claims that he has a right to deny service as an exercise of his free speech. We argue, however, that “…this case does not present a true First Amendment question, as there is no ‘speech’ at issue. The undisputed fact is that Mr. Phillips refused to serve Mr. Craig and Mr. Mullins before there was any talk of design or message. Mr. Phillips did not refuse to convey a specific message – he refused to serve specific people, based on their membership in a specific, protected class.”
Additionally, we argue that overturning the Colorado Court of Appeals’ decision would “…undermine decades of civil rights progress, and eviscerate public accommodation statutes across the country. The First and Fourteenth Amendments cannot logically permit, let alone mandate, such a result.”
The results of dismantling public accommodations laws nationwide would be disastrous. These statutes are often tailored around a community’s values and needs, and frequently protect broader groups of people and entities than federal law. State public accommodation statutes are crucial for the work we do at the Public Interest Law Center in particular, as they “are essential to combatting unlawful discrimination in public accommodations, employment, housing, education, and other areas.”
The brief concludes by noting that “…anti-discrimination laws would become meaningless and useless if this Court were to recognize a First Amendment right to discriminate based on the theory that merely serving a member of a protected class may imply expression of a particular point of view regarding that class of people. Petitioners’ free speech argument is limitless, unmanageable, and wrong.”