Menendez, Booker Join Colleagues in Filing Congressional Amicus Brief in Masterpiece Cakeshop Case

Menendez, Booker Join Colleagues in Filing Congressional Amicus Brief in Masterpiece Cakeshop Case

Outcome Could Determine Whether Public Accommodations Can Discriminate Against Marginalized Groups

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) today joined Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Representative Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) to announce the filing of an Amicus Brief in support of equal rights for the LGBTQ community and other marginalized groups in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. A ruling for Masterpiece Cakeshop could create a license to discriminate, allowing businesses to deny service to Americans, including LGBTQ people. Senators Menendez, Booker and Baldwin and Representative Maloney were joined on the brief by 33 Senators and 173 House members. 

“While the First Amendment grants religious freedom, it does not grant the right to discriminate,” said Sen. Menendez. “In the 21st Century, no American should be turned away at any business simply because of whom they love. The decision of the Court could potentially take us back 50 years and reverse our progress as a nation. We have come so far in granting equal rights to all Americans, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity – let us not shatter our advancements.”

 “Under no circumstance should any American be discriminated against based on their gender identity or sexual orientation,” said Sen. Booker.  “For generations, brave men and women have mustered the conviction to fight for freedom and equality for all.  It’s up to us to stand up and continue this fight against injustice, protect the civil rights of all Americans, and defend everyone’s ability to love freely.” 

In 2012, same-sex couple Charlie Craig and David Mullins were denied a wedding cake by Masterpiece Cakeshop because of their sexual orientation. The shop’s owner, Jack Phillips, cited religious objections to same-sex marriage as a justification for his refusal. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission ruled that the shop could not lawfully deny services to individuals based on their sexual orientation under the Colorado anti-Discrimination Act. Masterpiece Cakeshop appealed the ruling, which was eventually upheld by the Colorado Supreme Court. The shop appealed the decision, and the United States Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on December 5th.  If the Court finds that a business owner’s religious conviction or expressive intent trumps civil rights laws, it could undermine local, state and federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination an accessing public accommodations.

In the friend-of-the-court brief, signers urge the Supreme Court to affirm the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s initial decision to require Masterpiece Cakeshop to comply with the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act. The brief considers the history of federal nondiscrimination laws, such as Title II of the Civil Rights Act, and Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and how rulings regarding those statutes apply to the pending case. Signers warn that the outcome of the case could have broad implications for the civil rights of groups that already face discrimination.  Moreover, creating exemptions to public accommodations laws – in this case based on a business’s arguably expressive conduct or religious belief – would undermine the government’s interest in prohibiting discrimination against minority groups.

The brief is supported by Garden State Equality, the Human Rights Campaign, the American Civil Liberties Union, Bend the Arc Jewish Action, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD),  Lambda Legal, NAACP Legal Defense Fund, National Center for Lesbian Rights, National Center for Transgender Equality, National Employment Law Project, National LGBTQ Task Force, National Women’s Law Center, People for the American Way Foundation, SAGE, Transgender Law Center, Equality California, Equality Delaware, Equality Florida, Equality New Mexico, Equality North Carolina, and One Colorado.

A full version of the brief can be downloaded here