Legal Docket: Jack Phillips’ big win

NICK EICHER, HOST: It’s Monday, the 11th of June, 2018.

Glad to have you along for today’s episode of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.

I’m expecting more rulings this morning from the Supreme Court.

Today, we’ll talk about the four decisions from last week.

The headliner case was Masterpiece Cakeshop, and that one was a 7-to-2 ruling in favor of the cake baker in Colorado who stood up for religious freedom.

We’ll have much more on that in a moment, including a conversation with that baker, Jack Phillips.

EICHER: First up, though, the other rulings from last week.

Two of them arise from drug crimes and the sentences attached to them.

Hughes versus United States deals with sentencing commissions that change sentencing guidelines. By six justices to three, the Supreme Court held that an inmate’s sentence can be reduced if at some future date the commission lowers the range of sentence. The decision does set out specific circumstances.

But the ruling disappointed those who wanted guidance from the court on how to use fractious opinions where no majority agrees on the reasoning behind a ruling.

The second sentencing matter (Koons v United States) all 9 justices could agree upon. That ruling denies a prisoner a reduced sentence because the judge in the case set the sentence using mandatory minimums.

Mandatory and minimum don’t leave much wiggle room.

REICHARD: The third ruling (Lamar, Archer & Cofrin v Appling) — also unanimous — sided with a dishonest debtor, who fell behind in paying his lawyers.

The debtor, Scott Appling, told his creditors he’d pay up when his expected tax return came in.

But he didn’t. Instead, he used the money elsewhere, and then filed for bankruptcy — and in bankruptcy sought to discharge those legal fees.

His lawyers argued that federal law says false statements such as Appling’s means their legal fees cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.

But Appling argued another part of the law is on his side. That says such debts can be discharged because his statement wasn’t in writing and the tax refund was really about his overall money status.

The high court agreed with Appling.

The lesson for creditors is to get everything in writing about a potential debtor’s financial condition.

You’d think the lawyers wouldn’t need the Supreme Court to remind them to get it in writing!

EICHER: Now on to the most watched case of the term: Masterpiece Cakeshop versus the Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

A brief reminder of the facts: it was back in 2012 that two men planned to marry one another in Massachusetts. That state was one of the few ones where gay marriage was legal. But they wanted to have their reception in Colorado, where it was not. They asked Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips to create a cake for that ceremony. Phillips politely refused to do so based on his religious belief that marriage is the union of a man and a woman. But he did offer to sell them anything else in his shop.

That was not good enough. The men filed a discrimination complaint with the state’s Civil Rights Commission. For the next six years, Phillips lost in multiple legal proceedings.

REICHARD: Until he reached the Supreme Court, that is. I spoke to Jack and one of his lawyers from Alliance Defending Freedom, Jeremy Tedesco.

Here’s an excerpt of that interview:

Most of us will never walk this arduous path that you’ve walked in. I, for one am grateful for that, but what is something that you’ve learned from this?

JACK PHILLIPS: What have I learned? I learned that our God is faithful, that in this country our court system actually works the way it’s supposed to do sometimes, and I’m glad it did in my case.

REICHARD: I wanted to ask you about the day that the Supreme Court agreed to hear your case. What did you think? What did you think when you heard the Supreme Court of the United States was going to hear your plea?

PHILLIPS: I was stunned. I was breathless. I was without words. I couldn’t talk for a couple of minutes. And just to think that you know, the United State Supreme Court recognizes that this case is that important, they’re going to look at it and then have them rule in my favor this week was just phenomenal.

REICHARD: Are you going to start baking cakes again? What’s next as far as your business?

PHILLIPS:  The wedding cakes, we have to look at the logistics of getting the personnel. The court ruling forced me to lose six of my 10 employees and until we have to find the staff that can do it, but I’m really excited to be able to back into it.

REICHARD: What comfort you has your Christian faith brought to you throughout this extended personal trial?    

PHILLIPS: My faith is integral in every aspect of my life, and so when I’m working that’s part of it, and when I’m off that’s part of it—the guiding influence in my life—and it’s much stronger now having gone through this, and it’s brought our family closer together. 

REICHARD: Well, I think part of the lesson for the rest of us is that you do live out your faith in outward and obvious ways is your Christian faith isn’t just a philosophical exercise. The Bible isn’t just an interesting literary read. Tell us about that. What are the other ways that you live out your, that other people could see?

PHILLIPS: When I became a follower of Jesus, I knew that that was not something that I would you know, like, relegate Sundays like that, that it became part of my life by the way I raised my kids. And the way when we opened our business that it would be, uh, have an influence. Helping me determine which cakes I would make, which cakes I wouldn’t make. How I treat all my customers. I serve everybody who comes in the door, regardless of their beliefs or anything else. We just decided which cakes we would create, which cake we wouldn’t create, we wouldn’t create cakes that would would denigrate or disparage other people, including people who identify as LGBT, because of the messages, that they carry.

REICHARD: Jeremy, I want to ask you a few questions before I come back to Jack. Charlie Craig, Dave Mullins, the two men who filed a complaint against Jack Phillips in the first place say they said after the ruling came down, they’re going to continue this fight for fair treatment. So they obviously are not happy with this ruling. Do you think there’s more fight to fight because after all, we’ve been to the Supreme Court on this now?

JEREMY TEDESCO: Yeah. Well, you know, the Supreme Court’s decision lays down a very important principle and that is that the government shouldn’t be hostile to people of faith in a free society. It wouldn’t surprise me if, um, you know, progressive forces continue to try to achieve legal victories they want to achieve, that’s of course going to happen. Um, but this case sets a really important precedent and it, and it says that people of faith have a right to belong alongside the rest of us, alongside those who disagree with them about marriage.

REICHARD: Well, now the ruling. I read the opinion and the dissents from Ginsburg and Sotomayor. The ruling seems kind of narrow in that the focus was on the overt and open and public hostile, I would say hateful comments of the Civil Rights Commissioners against Jack Phillips and in a religious faith in general. So how did the ruling fall short of what you might have hoped for, and how might it be used going forward for other proponents of First Amendment?

TEDESCO: Well, you know, you can’t believe the narrowness theme that’s coming out from the other side because it was, yes, the open hostility that the commissioners showed in their words were highly problematic and the court was very concerned about that. But the court also said it was the discriminatory enforcement of the law that showed the hostility and the targeting of Jack’s beliefs. That discriminatory enforcement is going to happen in any state that has these kinds of laws. It was exactly what happened in this case. When progressive bakers who support same-sex marriage declined to create cakes criticizing same-sex marriage, they were let off the hook by the state. The state said—and rightly so, I would add—that they didn’t violate the law and that they had a First Amendment right to decline to create those cakes, but then they prosecuted Jack Phillips. You can’t have that kind of uneven enforcement… the bottom line has to be consistency and the consistent rule here to apply is when you object to the message, you’re not violating the law. When you object to the person, you are. And so the simplest thing moving forward for Colorado is say if you’re objecting to the message and not to the protected status for the person, then you’re not in violation of the law. And indeed you also have a First Amendment right to decline to create these kinds of artistic creations that violate your beliefs. And so, where the state got in trouble is they were picking favorites when it came to exercising that right.

REICHARD: And why didn’t this Supreme Court just go ahead and answer all the panoply of questions that could have answers like clarify free speech. Why do they punt on all these other questions that we know? Small business people are going to continue to be targeted in lawsuits. Why didn’t they just solve it?

TEDESCO: Yeah. I don’t know, and I really hate to speculate as to the reasons why. It certainly could have been a broader victory, but I can’t undersell and we should not undersell the significance of the victory. Yes, the other side wants to say it was narrow and only applies to Jack, but it’s simply not true. The Supreme Court went out of its way to say that religious people can bring their religious beliefs to bear in the marketplace. And it said that tolerance and respect must be given to people like Jack Phillips who believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. Those are very, very significant rulings from the Supreme Court that should shape the law moving forward in favor of religious freedom and in favor of people who just want to live a life peacefully consistent with their beliefs about marriage.

REICHARD: Very good. Jack, any final word?

PHILLIPS: I’ve said it all along. I serve everybody. It’s just that every message that people asked me to create I can’t create. But I would welcome David and Charlie in my store today, tomorrow, any day. And I would sell them anything in my store. 

EICHER: That is Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips and lawyer Jeremy Tedesco.

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski) Baker Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, manages his shop after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

Like this story?

To hear a lot more like it, subscribe to The World and Everything in It via iTunes, Overcast, Stitcher, or Pocket Casts.







Pocket Casts

(Requires a fee)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.