This morning the Supreme Court issued orders from the justices’ private conference last week. The justices did not add any new cases to their merits docket for the next term.
The justices’ failure to act on Arlene’s Flowers v. Washington, a closely watched case involving issues similar to Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, on which the court ruled last week, was perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of today’s order list. In Masterpiece, the justices ruled in favor of Jack Phillips, a Colorado baker who refused to make a custom wedding cake for a same-sex couple because he believed that doing so would violate his religious beliefs. The opinion by Justice Anthony Kennedy emphasized that the Colorado administrative agency that ruled against Phillips had treated him unfairly by being hostile to his religious beliefs.
In Arlene’s Flowers, the justices have been asked to review the case of Barronelle Stutzman, a 72-year-old florist in Washington state who cited her religious beliefs to explain her refusal to do the flowers for a same-sex wedding ceremony. After the Washington Supreme Court upheld a ruling that she had violated the state’s law barring discrimination based on sexual orientation, Stutzman asked the justices to review the state court’s decision.
Stutzman’s case has been on hold for several months, presumably until the justices issued their decision in Masterpiece. In a brief filed after that decision, Stutzman’s attorneys – who also represented Phillips – urged the justices to, at the very least, send her case back to the lower courts for them to consider “evidence of government hostility” to Stutzman’s faith.
The state pushed back, describing Stutzman’s claims in her supplemental brief as “irrelevant and misleading,” but the justices did not act on the case today; they will consider it again at their private conference on Thursday. An announcement on the fate of the case could come as early as Monday, June 18, at 9:30 am.
The justices asked the U.S. solicitor general to weigh in on three cases, all arising out of lawsuits by U.S. government employees who were killed or injured in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The plaintiffs allege that Sudan provided support for al-Qaeda, which carried out the attacks, and the issues in the cases center on the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which specifies when a foreign government may be sued in U.S. courts.
This post was also published on SCOTUSblog.