The Supreme Court made a variety of high profile decisions this year on everything from hate speech to birth certificates. Unlike years past, there were few standout cases and most decisions didn’t even make the evening news.
The court’s announcement that they would be reviewing the Masterpiece Bakeshop Ltd. vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case this fall is perhaps the most significant announcement they’ve made this year.
Over the past several years there have been numerous cases wherein a religious businessperson refuses to provide products or services for a gay wedding service. Bakers, florists, and photographers have argued that they do not want to provide services for said marriages because doing so would conflict with their deeply-held religious beliefs. Most have said they would be perfectly willing to do business for any other purpose; just not the wedding itself. Bakers have often said that they would be perfectly fine with making a birthday cake for a gay couple, for example.
In a sane world, these customers would simply find other businesses who do want their money. But, in our ever more litigious society, the gay couple sues because the business has somehow violated their imaginary civil rights. After all, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not create a protected class for sexual identity. Nor is the business in question discriminating against the customer because of their sexual identity. They’re only refusing to provide their services in a way that the view them as being associated with a particular religious ceremony. Nonetheless, courts have repeatedly sided with the gay couples in question and used increasingly shaky legal footing to justify their decisions.
These cases have been spread out across the country and as a result have produced a variety of different outcomes. Some courts have imposed fines on the businesses that have refused to provide their services. Others have forced the proprietors to comply with the demands or risk losing their business altogether. Several such small businesses have gone bankrupt as a result. While the penalties have been harsh, they have not been uniform. Therefore, it is perfectly appropriate for the Supreme Court to review the case.
While appropriate, a decision on this issue will have far reaching consequences. The Supreme Court would be effectively ruling whether or not sexual identify is a protected class that cannot legally be discriminated against. They would also be determining whether it is within the government’s authority to compel labor under the threat of fines and imprisonment.
If either of those claims were upheld, that would greatly expand the authority of the state over private business. It’s even possible that the relationship between private property and government power could change as a result. Standing with the businesses would definitively strengthen the rights of property owners.
With that taken into account, the decision simply to review the case may well be the most important announcement they’ve made this year.