Supreme Court reverses state Sweet Cakes decision
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday reversed a $135,000 judgment against Gresham bakers Aaron and Melissa Klein, and sent their case back to the Oregon Court of Appeals.
The Kleins were the focus of an intense legal fight over state anti-discrimination laws beginning in January 2013 when they refused, based on their Christian beliefs, to bake a custom wedding cake for a Portland lesbian couple. Oregon's Bureau of Labor and Industries decided that the couple discriminated against the gay couple. In April 2015, an administrative law judge agreed to a $135,000 judgment against Sweet Cakes by Melissa, among other things, "emotional damages."
After closing their Gresham bakery, the Kleins appealed the fine, touching off the legal battle that eventually landed at the U.S. Supreme Court.
In its June 17 brief certiorari petition decision, the court decided that the Kleins' case should be reconsidered in light of a similar case involving a Colorado baker who refused to sell a cake to a gay couple. That case, Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. V Colorado Civil Rights Commission, hinged on shop owner Jack Phillips' First Amendment rights to refuse service. In its ruling, the Supreme Court upheld the baker's rights and said the Colorado commission had been hostile to Phillips' Christian beliefs.
The Kleins were represented by First Liberty Institute and Boyden Gray & Associates.
The court ruled that Oregon's Court of Appeals should reconsider the Kleins' case in light of the Colorado decision.
"This is a victory for Aaron and Melissa Klein and for religious liberty for all Americans," said Kelly Shackelford, president of First Liberty Institute, the Plano, Texas, legal firm that provided lawyers for the Kleins' court battles. "The Constitution protects speech, popular or not, from condemnation by the government. The message from the court is clear, government hostility toward religious Americans will not be tolerated."
Oregon from Attorney General Rosenblum said the state was "pleased that the U.S. Supreme Court chose to send this case back to the state courts."
"We look forward to returning to the Oregon Court of Appeals, where we will continue to defend the constitutionality of Oregon's laws that require bakeries and other places of public accommodation to serve all customers regardless of sexual orientation," Rosenblum said.
Labor Commissioner Val Hoyle said Monday, June 17, that despite the reversal, she is still "committed to the fair enforcement of Oregon's Equity Act." She also hopes the court of appeals will affirm the agency's decision.
"In Oregon, businesses are required by law to provide service to all customers equally regardless of protected status," said Hoyle, who became labor commissioner this year. "Oregon's public accommodations law is the basic principle of human decency that every person has the freedom to fully participate in society. Every person has the right to enter public places, to shop, to dine and to move about without fear of discrimination."
EDITOR'S NOTE: A version of this story described the $135,000 as a "fine." It was a judgment handed down by an administrative law judge in a contested case hearing.