Capitol Comments

After postponing a decision about whether to hear the notorious “cake case” 14 times, the Supreme Court has granted the petition in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

The issue in this case is whether Colorado's public accommodations law, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, violates a cake artist’s First Amendment free speech and free exercise rights.

The owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, Jack C. Phillips, declined to design and make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple because of his religious beliefs.

After postponing a decision about whether to hear the notorious “cake case” 14 times, the Supreme Court has granted the petition in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

The issue in this case is whether Colorado's public accommodations law, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, violates a cake artist’s First Amendment free speech and free exercise rights.

The owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, Jack C. Phillips, declined to design and make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple because of his religious beliefs.

In Christie v. National Collegiate Athletic Association the Supreme Court will decide whether the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) prohibition against state-sanctioned sports gambling is unconstitutional commandeering.

New Jersey first amended its constitution to allow some sports gambling and then passed a law repealing restrictions on sports gambling. In both instances New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was sued for violating PASPA. In both cases Christie responded that PASPA unconstitutionally commandeers states in violation of the Tenth Amendment.

In Pavan v. Smith, a per curiam (unauthored) decision heard without briefing or oral argument, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed an Arkansas Supreme Court judgment that an Arkansas statute, which allows only the biological mother of a child born to a same-sex married couple to be listed on the birth certificate, is constitutional.

Terrah and Marisa Pavan married in New Hampshire in 2011, and Terrah gave birth to a child in Arkansas in 2015. The Arkansas Department of Health issued a certificate bearing only Terrah’s name based on a provision of the Arkansas code specifying that “[i]f the mother was married at the time of either conception or birth . . . the name of [her] husband shall be entered on the certificate as the father of the child.” This provision applies even if a child is conceived through artificial insemination, as the Pavan’s daughter was, and it is impossible that the mother’s husband is the child’s biological father.

It is rare for the Supreme Court to rule that a lower court improperly granted a police officer qualified immunity. It is perhaps even rarer for the Supreme Court to clarify its tried and true qualified immunity standard.

In Hernandez v. Mesa the Supreme Court ruled that the lower court erred in granting qualified immunity to a police officer based on facts unknown at the time of the shooting, but favorable to the officer. More generally, it clarified that the facts learned after an incident are not relevant to granting or denying qualified immunity.  

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