Marcia Coyle, the senior Washington correspondent at The National Law Journal, appeared Tuesday on PBS NewsHour to offer observations on the U.S. Supreme Court’s argument in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, not surprisingly, is expected to play a key role in how the court decides the dispute—where a Colorado business owner named Jack Phillips refused on religious grounds to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple. The case pits a clash between civil rights and First Amendment protections for speech and religion.
More Supreme Court news? Subscribe here for ALM’s Supreme Court Brief
“Counselor, tolerance is essential in a free society. And tolerance is most meaningful when it’s mutual. It seems to me that the state in its position here has been neither tolerant nor respectful of Mr. Phillips’ religious beliefs,” Kennedy said at oral argument.
Coyle, speaking with PBS NewsHour host John Yang, said:
Justice Kennedy, for this case in particular, it hits two things very close to home for him. One, he is probably the strongest defender of First Amendment speech rights on the bench right now. And he’s also a very strong defender of the dignity of the individual, which was at the center of the opinions that he has written supporting gay rights, particularly the most recent same-sex marriage decision.
So, at one point during the arguments, he felt that the baker’s lawyer and the Trump administration’s lawyer made a comment. He asked the Trump administration’s lawyer, Could the baker hang a sign out on his window saying ‘no wedding cakes for gay couples’?
And the Trump administration’s lawyer said, ‘No custom-made wedding cakes.’ Justice Kennedy said, that’s an affront to the dignity of gays and lesbians.
So, that’s very much on his mind. But also during the argument, he felt that the Colorado Commission on Civil Rights, which ruled against Jack Phillips here, didn’t show much tolerance or respect for the baker’s religious beliefs, and that also is very important to him.
He’s really at the center now of speech and dignity in this case, with an overlay of religion. And I think, as is so often the case, when the justices are closely divided, he may well be the key to the outcome.
Read the full transcript here, or watch the video clip below.