Supreme Court to Hear Case on Businesses Discriminating Against LGBTQ Customers

The United States Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case that will examine whether a business has the right to discriminate against LGBTQ customers under the First Amendment of the U. S. Constitution.

Lorie Smith, a web designer from the Denver, Colorado, area, has asserted that her speech and religious freedom rights were violated due to the enforcement of a state law that bans businesses from discriminating against LGBTQ customers. Smith said that she did not want to be compelled to design wedding websites for same-sex couples, and sued the state in federal court.

Smith, who alleges that serving LGBTQ customers would go against her Christian faith, lost her suit in district court, and similarly lost her appeal in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals last year. But on Tuesday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear her case, though it dismissed doing so on the basis of First Amendment religious rights.

“The petition for a writ of certiorari is granted limited to the following question: Whether applying a public accommodation law to compel an artist to speak or stay silent violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment,” the Court wrote in its order.

Colorado’s Democratic Attorney General Phil Weiser spoke out against the Court’s decision to take the case.

“The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently held that anti-discrimination laws, like Colorado’s, apply to all businesses selling goods and services. Companies cannot turn away LGBT customers just because of who they are,” Weiser said.

The ruling from the Court could have significant implications, as 20 states in the U.S. have laws that are similar to Colorado’s, which ban buisnesses from discriminating against LGBTQ customers or clients.

The case will be heard during the Court’s next term, which begins in October. Although President Joe Biden is set to nominate (and possibly have confirmed) a new justice by that time, the Supreme Court’s ideology will still lean heavily to the right, as it currently has a 6-3 balance in favor of the conservative bloc of justices. Biden’s nominee will not change that balance, as whoever he picks will be replacing outgoing Justice Stephen Breyer, a liberal.

The case follows a ruling from the Court in 2018, which involved a baker who refused to make cakes for same-sex couples. In that case, the Court sided with the baker, but ruled in a narrow way that didn’t rely upon First Amendment arguments on speech or religion. Rather, the Court found that the application of the law, by Colorado’s civil rights commission, was unfairly hostile toward the plaintiff in the case.

Notably, that case was decided when the Court was more ideologically balanced, when Justice Anthony Kennedy, a moderate, was on the bench. Since then, the Supreme Court has shifted decidedly to the right, particularly on issues of religious freedom, due primarily to Justice Amy Coney Barrett replacing Kennedy on the Court in late 2020.

Although the case was granted with the caveat that it would only examine speech rights, many social media users opined that the Court would rule in a way that would give religious conservatives more leeway in discriminating against LGBTQ people.

“This will be another major step by Supreme Court to limit LGBTQ rights and chip away at marriage equality,” said radio host and author Michelangelo Signorile. “No question.”

Some are demanding that the Biden administration take action to address attacks on LGBTQ rights.

“The Supreme Court is about to dismantle civil rights laws for everyone as we know it while abusing LGBTQ Americans,” said Anthony Michael Kreiss, a law professor at Georgia State University. “And Congress will twiddle thumbs. And Biden will make a statement. And legal academics will hem and haw about packing the Court. The Court must be brought to heel.”