The U.S. Supreme Court issued a narrow, much-anticipated ruling Monday in favor of baker Jack Phillips in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court found the commission had violated Phillips’ constitutional protection of religious liberty when it ruled Phillips had violated the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act.
The Civil Rights Commission’s treatment of Phillips case “showed elements of a clear
and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs motivating
his objection,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy for a 7-2 majority.
Kennedy wrote the findings of hostility showed through in endorsements by commission members at its public hearing in the case that religious beliefs cannot legitimately carry over into the public or commercial sphere and disparagements of Phillips’ religious beliefs. He also stated the commission had treated Phillips’ case differently than cases of other bakers with objections to anti-gay messages who were successful before the commission.
Novel to Phillips’ case, for example, was the commission’s theory that any message on the wedding cake would be associated with the customer, not the baker.
“For these reasons, the Commission’s treatment of Phillips’ case
violated the State’s duty under the First Amendment not to base laws
or regulations on hostility to a religion or religious viewpoint,” Kennedy wrote. “The government, consistent with the Constitution’s guarantee of free exercise, cannot impose regulations that are hostile to the religious beliefs of affected citizens and cannot act in a manner that passes judgment upon or presupposes the illegitimacy of religious beliefs
Justice Elena Kagan filed a separate concurring opinion, which Justice Stephen Breyer joined, and Justice Neil Gorsuch filed another concurring opinion joined by Justice Samuel Alito. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented, joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
The case dates back to 2012, when, because of religious objections to same-sex marriage, Phillips declined to create a wedding cake for David Mullins and Charlie Craig, who planned to marry in Massachusetts. Phillips claimed First Amendment protections for religious freedom and freedom of expression overrode the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act, which prohibits businesses open to the public from discriminating based on sexual orientation.
Mullins and Craig filed discrimination charges, and several lower courts have ruled against Masterpiece Cakeshop since 2012. In 2013, Administrative Judge Robert Spencer decided Masterpiece Cakeshop could not receive a religious exemption from the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission made the same ruling in 2014, and the state appeals court affirmed the decision in 2015. In 2016, the Colorado Supreme Court declined to review the case. The U.S. Supreme Court first agreed to hear the case last summer.