Supreme Court Hears Masterpiece Cakeshop Arguments

Arguments went longer than planned as justices took an active interest in the case.

Jack Phillips speaks to the media after leaving the Supreme Court which is hearing the 'Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission,' Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017, in Washington.

By Liberty McArtor Published on December 5, 2017

People lined up outside the U.S. Supreme Court while it was still dark Tuesday morning — joining some who had camped out — hoping to witness oral arguments in a highly-anticipated case involving free speech, religious freedom and same-sex marriage.

Jack Phillips, the defendant in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, owns Masterpiece Cakeshop in Denver, Colorado. In 2012, the devout Christian declined a request to make a cake for a same-sex wedding reception. Phillips has also denied other cake requests in the past when they violate his beliefs. They include cakes that celebrate Halloween or have vulgar messages, among others.

But the couple, Charlie Craig and David Mullins, complained to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The commission then gave Phillips a list of orders, including that he make wedding cakes for same-sex unions. Since then, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) has represented Jack at every judicial level preceding the Supreme Court. The ACLU is representing Craig and Mullins.

First Impressions

“The hearing was very lively,” ADF president Michael Farris said directly after oral arguments. ADF live-streamed the press conference from the Supreme Court steps. Arguments were supposed to be an hour long. But they went longer “because there was so much interest on all sides of the case,” Farris said.

He added that Kristen Waggoner, the ADF attorney leading Phillips’ case, “did an absolutely great job.” Noel Francisco, U.S. Solicitor General, also argued Phillips’ case. The Justice Department filed an amicus brief on Phillips’ behalf. Colorado Solicitor General Frederick Yarger and ACLU attorney David Cole argued on behalf of Craig and Mullins.

“I think the court heard from four able lawyers,” Farris said. “But I believe at the end of the day we have a very good chance of prevailing in this case, but it’s going to be close.”

From The Defendant and the Plaintiffs

After the arguments, Phillips stepped up to the mic.

“I serve all who walk through my doors,” he said. “Though I serve everyone who comes into my shop, like many other creative professionals, I don’t create custom designs for events or messages that conflict with my conscience.”

Craig and Mullins also spoke to reporters and supporters.

“I believe at the end of the day we have a very good chance of prevailing in this case, but it’s going to be close.” — Michael Farris, President of ADF

“This entire time Dave and I have just been asking to be treated equally in public,” Craig said. “We’re two regular guys that just were wronged and decided to stand up for ourselves.”

“Dave and I do not have an agenda,” he added. “We all deserve fair and equal treatment, and that’s why we’re here today.”

During arguments, supporters of both sides held rallies outside the Supreme Court. Phillips’ supporters held signs reading “justice for Jack” and “love free speech.” Craig and Mullins’ supporters held signs reading “It’s not about the cake” and “open to all.” Various religious leaders and politicians joined each rally.

Notes From the Courtroom

While video recordings are not allowed inside the Supreme Court, The Wall Street Journal provided notes of the arguments on its live blog. Of note are questions from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She asked whether Phillips would refuse to sell pre-made products to Craig and Mullins. Waggoner maintained that he would not, since that didn’t constitute compelled speech.

Justice Elena Kagan asked what would happen if a baker refused to serve an interracial couple, or a disabled person, due to their religious beliefs. Waggoner responded by asserting that “Mr. Phillips is not basing his decisions on who his customers are, but what they are doing,” according to the Journal’s report.

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The race comparison came up repeatedly. Both Waggoner and Fransicso argued that refusing to serve someone because of their race is different than what Phillips is asking for. Yarger argued it was similar.

Chief Justice John Roberts brought the race analogy up again when questioning Cole, noting differences between how the Supreme Court treated white supremacists and Americans with traditional beliefs about marriage. Cole noted that while the Obergefell decision legalizing same-sex marriage in 2015 treated those with traditional beliefs about marriage respectfully, it “did not say that businesses could turn away gay customers,” the Journal reported.

But the Justice causing the most stir is Anthony Kennedy, seen as a swing vote. As the Journal reported, he appeared critical of Colorado during questioning. From the Journal: “‘It seems to me the state has been neither tolerant or respectful’ of the baker’s views, he said.” The Journal reports that Cole later minimized the perceived criticism, saying, “that’s just how arguments go.”

For the entirety of the Journal’s notes from the arguments, click here. For C-SPAN video footage from outside the Supreme Court today, click here.

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