on May 15, 2017 at 6:52 pm
The Supreme Court issued orders from last week’s private conference, and once again the big news was the court’s lack of action in some high-profile cases.
For the ninth conference in a row, the justices did not act on the petition for review in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, a Colorado baker’s challenge to the state’s public accommodations law. The baker, Jack Phillips, contends that the law violates the First Amendment by requiring Phillips to create custom wedding cakes for same-sex weddings, in violation of his sincerely held religious beliefs. Nearly three years ago, the justices declined to review a similar decision by the New Mexico Supreme Court holding that a photography studio violated the state’s anti-discrimination laws when it refused to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony. The owners of the studio argued that taking photographs of such ceremonies would violate their religious beliefs. In that case, though, the justices turned down the studio’s request after considering it at only three conferences.
The court also did not act on the petition for review in Peruta v. California, the latest gun rights case to come to the court, which apparently will be relisted for a second time. The petition asks the justices to decide whether there is a Second Amendment right to carry a handgun outside the home for self-defense. Under California law, gun owners can carry a concealed weapon if they have a license, which can be obtained if the gun owner can show “good cause”; in San Diego County, the sheriff defines “good cause” to require a specific need to have a gun for self-defense. A group of San Diego County residents challenged the policy after being denied a concealed-carry license, and a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for th 9th Circuit agreed that, when state law prohibits gun owners from openly carrying guns, the policy violates the residents’ right to bear arms. But the en banc appeals court reversed, holding that the policy does not violate the Second Amendment. The petition was filed in January and was originally slated for consideration at the justices’ March 24 conference, but it was rescheduled four times before being considered for the first time at the April 28 conference.
The justices did deny review in another high-profile case, North Carolina v. North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP. The case was a challenge under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which bars voting practices and procedures that discriminate based on race (among other things), to a 2013 election law in North Carolina that includes a photo ID requirement and the reduction of early voting by one week. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled that the changes to state election procedures were motivated by discriminatory intent, and the state asked the Supreme Court to weigh in late last year.
But in February, the state’s newly elected Democratic governor and attorney general asked the justices to dismiss the state’s petition, which prompted what Chief Justice John Roberts today described as a “blizzard of filings over who is and who is not authorized to seek review” in the Supreme Court under North Carolina law. And that political dispute may well have played a role in the justices’ decision to steer clear of the merits of the North Carolina case: In his two-page statement respecting the denial of review, Roberts recounted the dispute in some detail and concluded with a reminder not to read too much into the court’s decision not to take on the case. It “is important to recall,” Roberts emphasized, “our frequent admonition that ‘[t]he denial of a writ of certiorari imports no expression of opinion upon the merits of the case.’”
The justices will meet for another conference on Thursday, May 18; orders from that conference are likely on Monday, May 22.