Court Declines to Revisit Marriage, Campaign Controversies

Court Declines to Revisit Marriage, Campaign Controversies Wavebreak Media LTD

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday appeared to have no immediate appetite for revisiting two of its most controversial issues: campaign finance and same-sex marriages.

The justices, without comment, denied review in Iowa Right to Life v. Tooker, a challenge to Iowa’s ban on corporate campaign contributions in state elections; and in Elane Photography v. Willock, an appeal by a New Mexico wedding photographer who refused, on religious grounds, to photograph a same-sex couple’s wedding.

On another high profile issue triggering litigation around the country, the high court in Sepulvado v. Jindal turned away a death row inmate’s claim that he had a constitutional right to know the lethal injection protocol that Louisiana intended to use in his execution.

The only new case added on Monday to the court’s argument docket for next fall was Dart Cherokee Basin Operating Co. v. Owens, which asks the justices what a defendant must plead in a notice seeking to remove a case from state court to federal court.

In the gay marriage case, the New Mexico Supreme Court had ruled that the photographers’ denial of service for the 2007 commitment ceremony of a lesbian couple, Vanessa Willock and Misti Collinsworth, violated the state’s public accommodations law. The state law bans discrimination in public services.

The photographers, Elaine and Jonathan Huguenin, said in their petition for review that they were willing to take portraits of same-sex couples, but photographing marriages or commitment ceremonies would require them to convey messages that conflict with their religious beliefs. They argued that applying the state public accommodations law to require them to photograph those ceremonies violated the First Amendment’s prohibition on compelled speech.

“The First Amendment protects our freedom to speak or not speak on any issue without fear of punishment,” the Huguenins’ counsel, Jordan Lorence, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, said in a written statement. “We had hoped the U.S. Supreme Court would use this case to affirm this basic constitutional principle; however, the court will likely have several more opportunities to do just that in other cases of ours that are working their way through the court system.”

Lorence said his organization is handling three other cases involving refusals of services by a florist, a cake artist and a T-shirt printer, each of whom has been sued for discrimination.

However, “No court has ever held that businesses have a First Amendment right to discriminate, and it is no surprise that the Supreme Court has denied this attempt to overturn settled law,” said Joshua Block, staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project.

“Selling commercial wedding photography services, like selling a wedding cake or a flower arrangement, does not mean that a business owner endorses a customer’s marriage,” he said. “Everybody has the right to express their views on whatever subject they wish, and that includes business owners. But every business has to play by the same rules to protect customers from discrimination in the marketplace.”

The campaign finance petition, Iowa Right to Life, was filed in the high court by James Bopp Jr. of The Bopp Law Firm in Terre Haute, Ind. Bopp was the original counsel of record in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010) and McCutcheon and Republican National Committee v. Federal Election Commission, which was decided just last week.

In Iowa Right to Life, Bopp raised two issues: whether Iowa’s ban on political contributions by corporations, but not by unions, violated Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection of the laws, and whether the corporate-contribution ban violated the First Amendment.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit upheld the ban on corporate contributions based on the Supreme Court’s decision in FEC v. Beaumont. The 2003 Beaumont ruling said that prohibiting direct corporate contributions by nonprofit advocacy-oriented corporations was consistent with the First Amendment. Bopp argued that the Iowa ban conflicted with Citizens United.

In Sepulvado, the death penalty case, Christopher Sepulvada claimed he had a due-process right to know the manner by which Louisiana would execute him. A district court agreed with him and ordered the state to disclose the lethal injection protocol so that it could decide whether the method was cruel and unusual under the Eighth Amendment. The Fifth Circuit reversed.

Finally, the nation’s business community will be watching the granted case, Dart Cherokee, for what the justices is needed to establish federal jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act.

Dart Cherokee, whose petition was supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, asks the court whether a defendant seeking removal to federal court is required to include evidence supporting federal jurisdiction in the notice of removal, or whether alleging the required “short and plain statement of the grounds for removal” is enough.

No decisions are expected this week. The justices will be back on the bench for their final round of oral arguments on April 21.

Contact Marcia Coyle at mcoyle@alm.com.

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