Justices side with baker on same-sex wedding cake

By Mark Sherman
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court ruled for a Colorado baker who wouldn't make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple in a limited decision that leaves for another day the larger issue of whether a business can invoke religious objections to refuse service to gay and lesbian people.

The justices' decision Monday turned on what the court described as anti-religious bias on the Colorado Civil Rights Commission when it ruled against baker Jack Phillips. The justices voted 7-2 that the commission violated Phillips' rights under the First Amendment.

The case had been eagerly anticipated as, variously, a potentially strong statement about the rights of LGBT people or the court's first ruling carving out exceptions to an anti-discrimination law. In the end, the decision was modest enough to attract the votes of liberal and conservative justices on a subject that had the potential for sharp division.

Justice Anthony Kennedy said in his majority opinion that the larger issue "must await further elaboration" in the courts. Appeals in similar cases are pending, including one at the Supreme Court from a florist who didn't want to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding.

The disputes, Kennedy wrote, "must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market."

The same-sex couple at the heart of the case, Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins, complained to the Colorado commission in 2012 after they visited Phillips' Masterpiece Cakeshop in suburban Denver and the baker quickly told them he would not create a cake for their wedding celebration. They were married in Massachusetts because same sex marriage was not yet legal in Colorado.

Colorado law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and the commission concluded that Phillips' refusal violated the law, despite Phillips' argument that he is opposed to same-sex marriage on religious grounds. Colorado state courts upheld the determination.

But when the justices heard arguments in December, Kennedy was plainly bothered by comments by a commission member that the justice said disparaged religion. The commissioner seemed "neither tolerant nor respectful of Mr. Phillips' religious beliefs," Kennedy said in December.

That same sentiment coursed through his opinion Monday. "The commission's hostility was inconsistent with the First Amendment's guarantee that our laws be applied in a manner that is neutral toward religion," he wrote.

Liberal justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan joined the conservative justices in the outcome. Kagan wrote separately to emphasize the limited ruling.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented. "There is much in the court's opinion with which I agree," Ginsburg wrote of Kennedy's repeated references to protecting the rights of gay people. "I strongly disagree, however, with the court's conclusion that Craig and Mullins should lose this case."

The Trump administration intervened in the case on Phillips' behalf, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions praised the decision. "The First Amendment prohibits governments from discriminating against citizens on the basis of religious beliefs. The Supreme Court rightly concluded that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission failed to show tolerance and respect for Mr. Phillips' religious beliefs," Sessions said.

President Donald Trump was unusually vague about the decision, simply tweeting, "Big Supreme Court ruling for Baker just out!" - more than 11 hours later.

Kristen Waggoner, the Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel who argued Phillips' case, said the court was right to condemn the commission's open antagonism toward Phillips' religious beliefs about marriage.

Waggoner said Phillips is willing to sell ready-made products to anyone who enters his store. But, "he simply declines to express messages or celebrate events that violate his deeply held beliefs," she said.

Phillips was at his shop Monday morning, where he was busy answering the phone and getting congratulations from his supporters in person, including his pastor. One woman brought him balloons and others hugged him.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which represented the couple in its legal fight, said it was pleased the court did not endorse a broad religion-based exemption from anti-discrimination laws.

"We read this decision as a reaffirmation of the court's longstanding commitment to civil rights protections and the reality that the states have the power to protect everyone in America from discrimination, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people," said James Esseks, director of the ACLU LGBT & HIV Project.

Waggoner and Esseks disagreed about the ruling's effect on Phillips' wedding cake business. Waggoner said her client can resume his refusal to make cakes for same-sex marriages without fear of a new legal fight. But Esseks said that if another same-sex couple were to ask Phillips for a wedding cake, "I see no reason in this opinion that Masterpiece Cakeshop is free to turn them away."

Craig, one of the plaintiffs, said Monday night he will continue to fight against discrimination. He told supporters during a rally at the Colorado Capitol that he and his partner brought the case "because no one should have to face the shame, embarrassment and humiliation of being told 'we don't serve your kind here.'"

Several other legal disputes are pending over wedding services, similar to the Phillips case. In addition to florists, video producers and graphic artists are among business owners who say they oppose same-sex marriage on religious grounds and don't want to participate in same-sex weddings.

Barronelle Stutzman, a florist in Richland, Washington, has appealed a state Supreme Court ruling that found she violated state law for refusing to provide the wedding flowers for two men who were about to be married.

The justices could decide what to do with that appeal by the end of June.
Associated Press writers P. Solomon Banda, Nicholas Riccardi and Thomas Peipert contributed to this report from Denver.

Court rules in dispute over immigrant teen's abortion

By Jessica Gresko
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court ruled Monday in a case about a pregnant immigrant teen who obtained an abortion with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, siding with the Trump administration and wiping away a lower court decision for the teen but rejecting a suggestion her lawyers should be disciplined.

The decision is about the teen's individual case and doesn't affect an ongoing class-action case about the ability of immigrant teens in government custody to obtain abortions, the ACLU said. The justices ruled in an unsigned opinion that vacating a lower court decision in favor of the teen, who had been in government custody after entering the country illegally, was the proper course because the case became moot after she obtained an abortion.

Government lawyers had complained to the Supreme Court that attorneys for the ACLU didn't alert them that the teen's abortion would take place earlier than expected. The administration said that deprived its lawyers of the chance to ask the Supreme Court to block the procedure, at least temporarily. The Trump administration told the court that discipline might be warranted against the teen's attorneys. The ACLU said its lawyers did nothing wrong.

The Supreme Court said it took the government's allegations "seriously" but the court declined to wade into the finger-pointing between the sides.

"Especially in fast-paced, emergency proceedings like those at issue here, it is critical that lawyers and courts alike be able to rely on one another's representations. On the other hand, lawyers also have ethical obligations to their clients and not all communications breakdowns constitute misconduct," the justices wrote in a 5-page opinion, adding that the court "need not delve into the factual disputes raised by the parties" in order to vacate the decision for the teen.

David Cole, national legal director of the ACLU, said in a statement that the organization was "gratified that the court rejected this extraordinary request" for sanctions. He said the "ACLU did what lawyers are supposed to do, namely, pursue the best interests of our clients."

Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said in a statement that the department was pleased with the decision.

"The Supreme Court has repeatedly made clear that the federal government is not required to facilitate abortions for minors and may choose policies favoring life over abortion. We look forward to continuing to press the government's interest in the sanctity of life," she said.

The teen at the center of the case entered the U.S. illegally in September as a 17-year-old and was taken to a federally funded shelter in Texas for minors who enter the country without their parents. The unnamed teen, referred to as Jane Doe, learned while in custody that she was pregnant and sought an abortion. A state court gave her permission, but federal officials - citing a policy of refusing to facilitate abortions for pregnant minors in its shelters - refused to transport her or temporarily release her so that others could take her for the procedure.

The ACLU helped the teen sue the Trump administration, and after a federal appeals court sided with her, the government was preparing to ask the Supreme Court to step in and block the procedure, at least temporarily.

But the teen, allowed out of the shelter by court order, had an abortion first, about 12 hours after a court gave her the go-ahead. In response, the Trump administration, in a highly unusual filing with the Supreme Court, cried foul. The ACLU has defended its attorneys' actions, saying government lawyers made assumptions about the timing of the teen's abortion.

Even though Jane Doe was able to get an abortion, the lawsuit that began with her has continued and could return to the Supreme Court at some point. Scott Lloyd, the director of the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Refugee Resettlement, which oversees shelters for unaccompanied immigrant minors, has said he believes teens in his agency's care have no constitutional right to abortion.

And since the Jane Doe case was filed, several other pregnant teens in his agency's care have come forward seeking abortions and been represented by the ACLU. In two cases, the young women were released from custody and able to seek the procedure on their own while in another case the teen, a 17-year-old rape victim, got a court order allowing her to obtain an abortion and the government stopped attempting to block the procedure.

In March, following a request from the ACLU, a judge barred the Trump administration from interfering with the ability of any pregnant immigrant teens in its custody to obtain abortions while a class action lawsuit against the administration goes forward.

U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan ordered the Trump administration to post notices in government-run shelters that tell pregnant women that they have a right to decide whether to have the baby or to end their pregnancy.

The government had asked an appeals court to put Chutkan's order on hold while it appeals. But on Monday, hours after the Supreme Court ruled, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit declined.

The court said oral arguments in the case will be held in September.

The Justice Department declined late Monday to comment on the appeals court's decision.

Appeal from condemned man refused

By Michael Graczyk
Associated Press

HOUSTON (AP) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused an appeal from a San Antonio man on Texas' death row for the gang rape and fatal stabbing of a 15-year-old girl in 1996.

The high court decision upholds a 2-1 ruling last year from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which rejected arguments from lawyers for condemned prisoner Carlos Trevino that his trial attorneys were deficient for not showing jurors his mother's drinking while she was pregnant with him left Trevino with fetal alcohol disorder. Attorneys argued the disorder could have contributed to his violent behavior and persuaded jurors to sentence him to life in prison rather than death.

The Supreme Court majority had no comment on its decision. Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented and was joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

In 2012, the high court returned Trevino's case to lower courts for review of the ineffective legal help claim, which eventually led to the 5th Circuit ruling a year ago.

The 5th Circuit ruling was a "flagrant error" and the Supreme Court decision Monday was "indefensible," Sotomayor said in her 13-page dissent.

She pointed to arguments from Trevino's appeals lawyers who submitted new expert testimony that said while jurors at Trevino's 1997 trial in San Antonio were aware his mother had alcohol problems, they were unaware of the extent of the damage to him. A mitigation expert said Trevino weighed only 4 pounds at birth, was not potty-trained until he was 6 and wore diapers at night until he was 8. He dropped out of school in the ninth grade and could read only at a third-grade level, according to court filings.

"She drank 18 to 24 beers per day during pregnancy, resulting in Trevino's developmental delay," Sotomayor wrote, adding that the high court's failure to intervene "sanctions the taking of a life by the state."

Trevino's trial lawyers presented only one witness during his punishment hearing, an aunt who testified briefly about his rough childhood and his mother's alcoholism.

A favorable ruling from the Supreme Court could have resulted in a new punishment hearing for Trevino, 43.

He does not yet have an execution date.

Trevino was 21, belonged to the Pisteleros street gang and had been released from prison a month earlier after an auto theft conviction when Linda Salinas was raped and fatally stabbed at a San Antonio park. Three others were convicted in her slaying, but only Trevino received a death sentence.

Man loses appeal in Mardi Gras shootings

HOUSTON (AP) - The U.S. Supreme Court has refused the case of a Houston man serving five life sentences for killing one person and injuring four others by shooting into a Galveston Mardi Gras crowd in 1998.

Attorneys for 40-year-old Keith Michael St. Aubin argued unsuccessfully the multiple sentences for the same offense amounted to unconstitutional double jeopardy. St. Aubin was convicted of the death of a 19-year-old Houston man, Oscar Nava, and four counts of attempted murder. Nava was among those named as a victim in the other four counts.

Trial testimony showed Nava and two victims were with a woman accosted by St. Aubin.

St. Aubin contended he pulled out his gun and shot in self-defense. Two others also were injured.

Prison records show he's not eligible for parole until 2028.

Published: Wed, Jun 06, 2018