SCOTUS conservatives signal support for web designer who backs traditional marriage

Lorie Smith filed a lawsuit in 2016 to block enforcement of Colorado's public accommodation law, which bars businesses from discriminating against individuals in a range of protected groups, including same-sex couples.

Updated: December 5, 2022 - 3:51pm

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The Supreme Court on Monday heard arguments in a First Amendment case brought by a Christian web designer over the state of Colorado's antidiscrimination law, which she argues could be used to force her to create websites advocating for positions contrary to her religious beliefs.

Lorie Smith filed a lawsuit in 2016 to block enforcement of the state's public accommodation law, which bars businesses from discriminating against individuals in a range of protected groups, including same-sex couples. The lawsuit is preemptive.

Two of the court's conservative members, Associate Justices Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh, both Trump appointees, were skeptical of Colorado's arguments against Smith's suit.

Barrett, per The Hill, posed a hypothetical scenario to the state in which a business chose to exclusively promote same-sex marriages.

"Let’s just say that [The New York Times] for Gay Pride Month decides that it's going to run — to promote and recognize same sex marriage — only same sex marriage announcements, turns away heterosexual announcements, not because it disparages or disagrees with opposite-sex unions but because it's trying to promote something else... Can it do that?" she asked.

Colorado Solicitor General Eric Olson conceded that point, saying "I think the answer is no."

Kavanaugh, meanwhile, suggested that that a victory for Colorado could result in a slew of other professions facing pressure for coerced speech, pointing to hired speechwriters who may have to advocate against their "most deeply held convictions," per the outlet.

Liberal Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, however, was skeptical of the broader implications of a Smith victory, asking that, should the court enforce a right to refuse wedding services to same-sex couples, why that would not logically extend to issues of interracial marriage or marriages between disabled individuals.

"How about [website designers] who don't believe in interracial marriage? Or about people who don't believe that disabled people should get married? Where's the line? ...I choose to serve whom I want," she said. "If I disagree with their personal characteristics like race, or disability, I can choose not to sell to those people this website because it’s my speech?"

Smith attorney Kristen Waggoner retorted that Supreme Court precedent asked the justices to consider whether her client was "otherwise serving those in the protected class in expressing other messages." Smith is willing to serve gay customers outside of providing them with online wedding services.

The case is 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis. A decision from the court is expected by this summer.

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