Civil Rights economic justice Immigration LGBTQ Rights religious freedom Supreme Court

Gays, Bans, and Unions: The Supreme Court’s Eventful Summer

Nikita Srivastava (’19)

2018.06.04_SCOTUS_Rally,_Masterpiece_Cake_Case,_Washington,_DC_USA_02750_(41662234545)The Summer of 2018 gave Americans unpredictable weather, new celebrity romances, and, of course, a lot of Supreme Court decisions. After months of waiting, the Supreme Court released three opinions that will greatly effect American History. These are the major cases that caught American’s attention: Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, Trump v, Hawaii, and Janus v. American Federation of State County, and Municipal Employees.

The Supreme Court of the United States in Masterpiece v. Colorado ruled 7-2 in favor of the Colorado Baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple. However, the Court made a narrow decision leaving room open for a larger question: whether businesses can discriminate against gay individuals based on the rights protected in the First Amendment.

In a nutshell, the Supreme Court found that the Commission’s actions in this case violated the Free Exercise Clause. Colorado law can protect gay persons from discrimination, and the law protects religious freedom and freedom of speech. However, the Justices failed to address when those issues collide. The question of when free exercise of an individual’s religion must yield to a valid exercise of state power was left for the state court to decide. Justice Kennedy, who wrote the opinion, recognized that religious and philosophical objections to gay marriage are protected views, and, in some way, a form of expression. However, Justice Kennedy also stated, “Our society has come to the recognition that gay persons and gay couples cannot be treated as social outcasts or as inferior in dignity or worth.” Throughout his opinion, Justice Kennedy recognized that both religious freedom and expression and gay rights are important; but, the Commission’s hostility was inconsistent with the First Amendment’s guarantee that the laws are applied to religion in a neutral manner.

Additionally, Justice Ginsburg dissented argued that “when a couple contacts a bakery…the product they are seeking is cake celebrating their wedding – not a cake celebrating their hetrosexual weddings or same-sex weddings.” Ultimately, the Masterpiece Cakeshop did deny that service. The SCOTUS decision hit the LGBT community hard since the Court made the ruling during Pride Month. Yet this decision is not a total loss. The ruling in this case is fairly narrow meaning it is not sweeping precedent. In fact, this ruling leaves open potential new cases that could elaborate on these issues.

downloadIn the next case, Trump v. Hawaii, the Supreme Court in 5-4 ruling upheld the Travel Ban which banned immigrants from countries including: North Korea, Syria, Iran, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, and Venezuela. Justice Roberts gave the majority opinion for this case. He stated, “Korematsu [case] has nothing to do with this case.” However, many of his critics disagree. Korematsu upheld a clearly discriminating policy that justified the interment camps Japanese-Americans were imprisoned in during World War II. The Supreme Court justified this holding by stating that it was an issue of “national security” at the time. In Trump v. Hawaii, Justice Roberts stated that President Trump cited to ample statutory authority, which allowed him to make national security judgments in the realm of immigration.

Justice Sotomayor passionately dissented. She stated this decision was no better than Korematsu in which the court placed a veil of national security to justify a sweeping discriminatory policy that limited the freedom of a particular group. Justice Sotomayor noted how both cases invoked grossly overboard stereotypes to discriminate against a group of individuals.

However, the majority committed errors on both fact and law. As a matter of fact, the government presented no evidence of a national threat. As a matter of law, there was no legitimate grounding in national security concerns. Throughout her dissent, Justice Sotomayor referred to President Trump’s previous statement such as, “Islam hate us…And we can’t allow people coming into this country who have this hatred of the United States.” Statements like those make it clear that the government was targeting one group in particular – Muslims. Both Korematsu and Hawaii demonstrate that the government will continue to judge and harm people not based on their individual character but their membership in a “dangerous” group.

960x0Lastly, in Janus v. American Federation, the Supreme Court ruled in another 5-4 vote that government workers who choose not to join unions may be required to help pay for collective bargaining. According to Justice Alito, who gave the majority opinion, this means that public-sector unions will experience unpleasant transaction costs in short term and require unions to make adjustments in order to attract and retain members. The majority opinion noted that forcing workers to finance union activity violated the First Amendment; compelling nonmembers to subsidize private speech on matters of substantial public concern violated free speech rights.

The majority overruled a four-decade-old precedent. Also, it ruled that requiring payments to unions that negotiated with government forced workers to endorse political messages that may be at odds with their belief. However, the Unions disagreed with this argument by presenting evidence of nonmembers being entitled to refunds of payments spent on political activities.

Justice Kagan dissented by stating, “the majority overthrows a decision entrenched in this nation’s law – and economic life – for forty years.” Justice Kagan further discussed how this ruling prevents the American people from making important choices about workplace governance. Basically, the First Amendment became weaponized in a way that judges can intervene in economic and regulatory policy. In a nutshell, the power of public unions is limited.

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