Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. V Colorado Civil Rights Commission

Masterpiece sought review of the Colorado court of Appeals decision affirming Commission’s order that he sell custom wedding cakes to same sex couples. The Court, 7(six justice majority plus Thomas concurring in part and in judgment)-2, reversed and remanded. It held that Commission violated masterpiece’s free exercise rights when it failed to provide a neutral and respectful consideration as it showed bias in declaring the owner’s religious views despicable and merely rhetorical, Commission was acting as an adjudicator and Commission allowed bakers to refuse to create cakes with messages opposed to same sex marriage. Kagan, joined by Breyer, added a concurrence arguing the different outcomes in Commission’s cases is explained by the proper application of Colorado law as the bakers who did not make the cakes were not doing so based on religious creed and thus did not violate the statute. Gorsuch, joined by Alito, added a concurrence arguing Kagan’s argument was wrong as Commission came to incompatible results on legally identical facts without any neutral reasoning to justify it, presumed intent to violate in this case while refusing to do so when the message was opposition to same sex marriage and argued Kagan and the dissent picked a characterization (wedding cakes instead of the correct same sex marriage cakes) as part of a results driven analysis. Thomas, joined by Gorsuch, concurred in part and in judgment arguing that Masterpiece’s free speech rights were also violated because creating a custom wedding cake is expressive conduct, forcing Masterpiece to crate and sell same sex wedding cakes compels it to say same sex weddings should be celebrated, the Colorado court of Appels reasoning that the cake would only signal obedience to law or allowing a  disclaimer are misguided as they would justify all imposed speech by a state and further argued the asserted compelling government interest in protecting same sex couples from emotional distress is not supported by Court precedent allowing even generalized death threats against unpopular groups. Ginsberg, joined by Sotomayor, dissented arguing Commission’s decisions about opposition to same sex marriage do not prove religious discrimination in this case as the bakers there did not base their refusals on the customers religion and any bias as to some of the commission’s members was insufficient to reverse given the multiple decisionmakers who had no bias.

Hughes v United States

Hughes sought review of the 11th Circuit decision that he is ineligible for a sentence reduction because his sentence under a plea agreement did not expressly rely on a sentencing range. Resolving a split of authority on eligibility for sentence reductions when a plea agreement is accepted under Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(c)(1)(C), the Court reversed and remanded 6-3. The majority held that federal criminal sentences are generally done under the sentencing guidelines, the usual sentence under a rule 11(c)(1)(C) agreement are based on the guidelines as the district court is required to consider the guideline range in analyzing the agreement for approval, this interpretation serves the purpose of consistent application of guideline reductions to all eligible prisoner regardless of the form of plea agreement and rejected the government counterarguments holding the government is not deprived of its benefit under a plea agreement given the safeguards in reduction proceedings including district court discretion to deny relief. Sotomayor added a concurrence arguing her earlier concurrence in the Freeman case on this issue had contributed to confusion inconsistency and lack of predictability in this area and she thus joined the majority opinion as it was closer to her understanding of the statutory and rule interpretation issues involved. Roberts, joined by Thomas and Alito dissented arguing Rule 11 (c)(1)(C) sentences are based on the negotiations of the parties and allowing reductions deprives the government of its benefit of the plea agreement.

Koons v United States

Koons sought review of the 8th Circuit decision that he was ineligible for sentence reduction because he was sentenced under a mandatory minimum reduced for substantial assistance. The Court unanimously affirmed holding Koons sentence was based on the mandatory minimum sentence and substantial assistance motion because the guideline range was not considered during sentencing and rejected Koons’ counterarguments holding the guidelines played no role in setting the sentence, substantial assistance motions do not trigger the guideline range, the sentencing commission cannot override statutory commands and this decision limits instead of creates sentencing disparities.

Lamar, Archer & Coffin LLP v Appling

Lamar sought review of the 11th Circuit decision that false statements about a single asset can be statements about a person’s financial condition and thus the debt owed by Appling was dischargeable as his statements were not made in writing. The Court, resolving a circuit split on whether false statements about single assets can make debts non-dischargeable under 11 USC 523(a)(2)(B), unanimously affirmed. It held the meaning of the statutory phrase “statement relating to the debtor’s financial condition” is best understood to include statements about a single asset as such statements bear on the debtor’s overall financial condition and can help indicate whether the debtor is solvent, reading the phrase to only apply to statements about the debtor’s overall financial situation reads the word “respecting” out to the statue, would  lead to inconsistent results as the same lie about an asset could be shielded if made in a list of all assets and the statutory history supports the single asset reading as similar predecessor language was understood to apply to statements about one or some assets. It rejected Lamar’s counterarguments holding the decision here leaves  523(a)(2)(A) with plenty of reach to cover fraud made without misrepresentations and held the legislative history here demonstrates Congress meant to balance lies by both debtors and creditors and left creditors with the means of requiring all representations about assets be done in writing. Thomas, Alito and Gorsuch did not join the legislative history portion of the opinion.