I walked out of the documentary "RBG" convinced not that Ruth Bader Ginsberg's legal arguments were on the right side of history, but that they were so soundly reasoned there were simply right (no mean feat, that). But that conclusion can rest too easily on tautology: what you want to believe true is true.
Her dissent in Masterpiece Cake Shop would be "Exhibit A" in my argument. But before I get there, I have to point out that while Kennedy wrote the majority opinion, Kagan and Breyer signed a concurring opinion, as did Gorsuch and Alito. A footnote in the Kagan/Breyer opinion points out Gorsuch disagrees with a point in their argument. Gorsuch also joined Thomas' concurring opinion, in part. This was not a decision, in other words, based on consensus, despite the 7-2 vote. That interests me in part because it reminds me of the Bakke decision, which we studied in Con Law lo these many decades gone. Bakke presented (if memory serves; corrections gladly accepted) a "reverse discrimination" claim that he was not allowed into a college because he was a white male. The court kind of reached a decision on that issue, but wrote 8 different opinions trying to do it. Non-lawyers latch onto the judgment; lawyers look at the legal reasoning. There's a reason justices write out lengthy opinions, analyzing the facts and the law to justify their decision(s). The more broken up the opinions (Bakke is the gold standard for this legal principle), the more uncertain the power of the conclusion. The judgment matters to the parties in the case; the reasoning matters to the lawyers trying to use that opinion on behalf of their clients. This case, in other words, is a mess.
In the concurring opinion he wrote, Gorsuch tries to take on the Ginsburg dissent, which will serve as a prelude to that opinion. I have to say that goes as well for him as it did for Ted Olsen in a case before Justice Ginsburg, referenced in the documentary. Here is Gorsuch's argument, in brief:
Take the first suggestion first. To suggest that cakes with words convey a message but cakes without words do not—all in order to excuse the bakers in Mr. Jack’s case while penalizing Mr. Phillips—is irrational. Not even the Commission or court of appeals purported to rely on that distinction. Imagine Mr. Jack asked only for a cake with a symbolic expression against same-sex marriage rather than a cake bearing words conveying the same idea. Surely the Commission would have approved the bakers’ intentional wish to avoid participating in that message too. Nor can anyone reasonably doubt that a wedding cake without words conveys a message. Words or not and whatever the exact design, it celebrates a wedding, and if the wedding cake is made for a same-sex couple it celebrates a same-sex wedding.To put that in context, the words of the dissenting opinion, in pertinent part:
On March 13, 2014—approximately three months after the ALJ ruled in favor of the same-sex couple, Craig and Mullins, and two months before the Commission heard Phillips’ appeal from that decision—William Jack visited three Colorado bakeries. His visits followed a similar pattern. He requested two cakesThis is pretty much the entirety of the factual recitation and argument based on it. I removed most of the citations to the record, but included those to Justice Gorsuch's concurring opinion (thus does RBG use Gorsuch's argument against him) and two footnotes because I thought them important, too.
“made to resemble an open Bible. He also requested that each cake be decorated with Biblical verses. [He] requested that one of the cakes include an image of two groomsmen, holding hands, with a red ‘X’ over the image. On one cake, he requested [on] one side[,] . . . ‘God hates sin. Psalm 45:7’ and on the opposite side of the cake ‘Homosexuality is a detestable sin. Leviticus 18:2.’ On the second cake, [the one] with the image of the two groomsmen covered by a red ‘X’ [Jack] requested [these words]: ‘God loves sinners’ and on the other side ‘While we were yet sinners Christ died for us. Romans 5:8.’ ”
In contrast to Jack, Craig and Mullins simply requested a wedding cake: They mentioned no message or anything else distinguishing the cake they wanted to buy from any other wedding cake Phillips would have sold.
One bakery told Jack it would make cakes in the shape of Bibles, but would not decorate them with the requested messages; the owner told Jack her bakery “does not discriminate” and “accept[s] all humans.” The second bakery owner told Jack he “had done open Bibles and books many times and that they look amazing,” but declined to make the specific cakes Jack described because the baker regarded the messages as “hateful.” The third bakery, according to Jack, said it would bake the cakes, but would not include the re- quested message.
Jack filed charges against each bakery with the Colorado Civil Rights Division (Division). The Division found no probable cause to support Jack’s claims of unequal treatment and denial of goods or services based on his Christian religious beliefs. In this regard, the Division observed that the bakeries regularly produced cakes and other baked goods with Christian symbols and had denied other customer requests for de- signs demeaning people whose dignity the Colorado Antidiscrimination Act (CADA) protects. The Commission summarily affirmed the Division’s no-probable-cause finding.
The Court concludes that “the Commission’s consideration of Phillips’ religious objection did not accord with its treatment of [the other bakers’] objections.” But the cases the Court aligns are hardly comparable. The bakers would have refused to make a cake with Jack’s requested message for any customer, regardless of his or her reli- gion. And the bakers visited by Jack would have sold him any baked goods they would have sold anyone else. The bakeries’ refusal to make Jack cakes of a kind they would not make for any customer scarcely resembles Phillips’ refusal to serve Craig and Mullins: Phillips would not sell to Craig and Mullins, for no reason other than their sexual orientation, a cake of the kind he regularly sold to others. When a couple contacts a bakery for a wedding cake, the product they are seeking is a cake celebrating their wed- ding—not a cake celebrating heterosexual weddings or same-sex weddings—and that is the service Craig and Mullins were denied. Cf. ante, at 3–4, 9–10 (GORSUCH, J., concurring). Colorado, the Court does not gainsay, prohibits precisely the discrimination Craig and Mullins encountered. Jack, on the other hand, suffered no service refusal on the basis of his religion or any other protected characteristic. He was treated as any other customer would have been treated—no better, no worse.3
The fact that Phillips might sell other cakes and cookies to gay and lesbian customers was irrelevant to the issue Craig and Mullins’ case presented. What matters is that Phillips would not provide a good or service to a same-sex couple that he would provide to a heterosexual couple. In contrast, the other bakeries’ sale of other goods to Christian customers was relevant: It shows that there were no goods the bakeries would sell to a non-Christian customer that they would refuse to sell to a Christian customer. Nor was the Colorado Court of Appeals’ “difference in treatment of these two instances . . . based on the government’s own assessment of offensiveness.” Phillips declined to make a cake he found offensive where the offensiveness of the product was determined solely by the identity of the customer requesting it. The three other bakeries declined to make cakes where their objection to the product was due to the demeaning message the requested product would literally display. As the Court recognizes, a refusal “to design a special cake with words or images . . . might be different from a refusal to sell any cake at all.”5 The Colorado Court of Appeals did not distinguish Phillips and the other three bakeries based simply on its or the Division’s finding that messages in the cakes Jack requested were offensive while any message in a cake for Craig and Mullins was not. The Colorado court distinguished the cases on the ground that Craig and Mullins were denied service based on an aspect of their identity that the State chose to grant vigorous protection from discrimination. (“The Division found that the bakeries did not refuse [Jack’s] request because of his creed, but rather because of the offensive nature of the requested message. . . . [T]here was no evidence that the bakeries based their decisions on [Jack’s] religion . . . [whereas Phillips] discriminat[ed] on the basis of sexual orientation.”). I do not read the Court to suggest that the Colorado Legislature’s decision to include certain protected characteristics in CADA is an impermissible government prescription of what is and is not offensive. To repeat, the Court affirms that “Colorado law can protect gay persons, just as it can protect other classes of individuals, in acquiring whatever products and services they choose on the same terms and conditions as are offered to other members of the public.”
3JUSTICE GORSUCH argues that the situations “share all legally sa- lient features.” Ante, at 4 (concurring opinion). But what critically differentiates them is the role the customer’s “statutorily protected trait,” ibid., played in the denial of service. Change Craig and Mullins’ sexual orientation (or sex), and Phillips would have provided the cake. Change Jack’s religion, and the bakers would have been no more willing to comply with his request. The bakers’ objections to Jack’s cakes had nothing to do with “religious opposition to same-sex wed- dings.” Ante, at 6 (GORSUCH, J., concurring). Instead, the bakers simply refused to make cakes bearing statements demeaning to people protected by CADA. With respect to Jack’s second cake, in particular, where he requested an image of two groomsmen covered by a red “X” and the lines “God loves sinners” and “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us,” the bakers gave not the slightest indication that religious words, rather than the demeaning image, prompted the objection. See supra, at 3. Phillips did, therefore, discriminate because of sexual orientation; the other bakers did not discriminate because of religious belief; and the Commission properly found discrimination in one case but not the other. Cf. ante, at 4–6 (GORSUCH, J., concurring).
5The Court undermines this observation when later asserting that the treatment of Phillips, as compared with the treatment of the other three bakeries, “could reasonably be interpreted as being inconsistent as to the question of whether speech is involved.” Ante, at 15. But recall that, while Jack requested cakes with particular text inscribed, Craig and Mullins were refused the sale of any wedding cake at all. They were turned away before any specific cake design could be dis- cussed. (It appears that Phillips rarely, if ever, produces wedding cakes with words on them—or at least does not advertise such cakes. See Masterpiece Cakeshop, Wedding, http://www.masterpiececakes.com/ wedding-cakes (as last visited June 1, 2018) (gallery with 31 wedding cake images, none of which exhibits words).) The Division and the Court of Appeals could rationally and lawfully distinguish between a case involving disparaging text and images and a case involving a wedding cake of unspecified design. The distinction is not between a cake with text and one without, see ante, at 8–9 (GORSUCH, J., concurring); it is between a cake with a particular design and one whose form was never even discussed.
If you read Ginsburg's words carefully, you'll see one of the purposes of dissent, especially in a case with so many opinions: she is analyzing (dissecting, really) the majority opinion and pointing the way to the proper legal conclusion in future cases. So:
To repeat, the Court affirms that “Colorado law can protect gay persons, just as it can protect other classes of individuals, in acquiring whatever products and services they choose on the same terms and conditions as are offered to other members of the public.”But the heart of her argument, and where she is so right despite Gorsuch's attempt (and failure) to rebut her, is here:
When a couple contacts a bakery for a wedding cake, the product they are seeking is a cake celebrating their wedding—not a cake celebrating heterosexual weddings or same-sex weddings—and that is the service Craig and Mullins were denied. Cf. ante, at 3–4, 9–10 (GORSUCH, J., concurring). Colorado, the Court does not gainsay, prohibits precisely the discrimination Craig and Mullins encountered. Jack, on the other hand, suffered no service refusal on the basis of his religion or any other protected characteristic. He was treated as any other customer would have been treated—no better, no worse.