U.S. Supreme Court Rejects New Mexico Photographer’s Appeal

Jim Burroway

April 7th, 2014

The U.S. Supreme Court today announced that it will not take up the the appeal by Elane Photography, a New Mexico photographer who was found to have violated the state’s anti-discrimination law by refusing to photograph a same-sex wedding.

In the Order Paper published online this morning (PDF: 93KB/8 pages), Elane Photography v. Vanessa Willock is listed, without comment, as among cases in which certiorari was denied.

In 2006, Elaine Huguenin, who runs Elane Photography (the different spelling is intentional), refused to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony for a lesbian couple. The couple, Vanessa Willock and Misti Collinsworth, hired another photographer and filed a complaint with the state’s Human Rights Division, which set up a commission to examine the complaint. In February 2008, the commission ruled that Elane Photography had violated  the state’s Human Rights Act by discriminating against the couple on the basis of sexual orientation. Huguenin turned to the courts, which have backed the state’s Human Rights Division ruling.

enough already

April 7th, 2014

I’d like to say something such as:
Them thar librul activst democRAT atheistik Jistces like that Scalia guy (probuply a illegal emmigrant to) think they ken till us folks wht ta do!

But the truth of the matter is much more complex: This has no bearing on the pending Hobby Lobby case. That one, should it go against us, will restore women and all queers to second-class citizenship immediately.

I’m happy they refused to hear this case, but I’m still not the least bit optimistic about the Hobby Lobby ruling.

Priya Lynn

April 7th, 2014

All right!

Richard Rush

April 7th, 2014

Unlike the outcome of the Brendan Eich matter, which I think was entirely appropriate, I think gay people should avoid filing anti-discrimination lawsuits over things like cakes and photography, even though I agree entirely with the existence of those laws. I see it as a “pick our battles” matter. These lawsuits have spawned the so-called religious freedom laws, and now we are stuck spending time, money, and effort defending against their passage, and that’s a distraction from much more important issues at this point in time.

With these lawsuits, our opponents can legitimately point their fingers directly at gay people as the source, which plays right into their hands.

But the Eich matter was very different. That outcome could not possibly have been produced only by gay people. We are less than 5% of the population and have little to no power by ourselves. It is our non-gay allies that made this happen. The Religious Right does not want to acknowledge that a huge part of the general population are now our allies, so their leaders prefer to use labels such as homofascists and gaystapo to deflect attention from that fact. They gotta keep their gullible followers obsessed with the evil homos so they continue sending money.


April 7th, 2014

@enough already: The NMSC ruled that discrimination law is still constitutional regardless of the outcome of Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius:

It is an open question whether Elane Photography, which is a limited liability company rather than a natural person, has First Amendment free exercise rights. Several federal courts have recently addressed this question with differing outcomes. … However, it is not necessary for this Court
to address whether Elane Photography has a constitutionally protected right to exercise its religion. Assuming that Elane Photography has such rights, they are not offended by enforcement of the NMHRA. (emphasis mine)

So we won’t need to worry about discrimination law getting uprooted anytime soon. This is pretty much the only thing that’s kept me positive about the Hobby Lobby case.


April 8th, 2014

First, the Supreme Court isn’t bound by the ruling of NMSC. It can decide issues differently. Second, the issue isn’t whether anti-discrimation laws are constitutional. The issue in Hobby Lobby is whether a statute, the RFRA, gives corporations an exemption from said laws. Don’t get it twisted, this can still end very badly for us. (One more thing, the statute in the Hobby Lobby case only applies to federal laws. So state level antidiscrimation laws would be safe even in the face of an adverse ruling. But the ruling would be used to create exemptions to any law or policy the federal government enacts to protect gay people)


April 8th, 2014

Not to derail the conversation completely but did you read about all these other companies who ALSO want Business exemptions based on religious beliefs of the business owners, to providing mandated minimum health care plans?



April 8th, 2014

Richard, I don’t think filing “a complaint with the state’s Human Rights Division” is the same as suing someone. The company violated the law, and the couple in question reported that violation to the appropriate authorities. That’s like the difference between calling the cops on noisy neighbors and personally suing said neighbors for the distressed they caused by preventing you from sleeping.

Priya Lynn

April 8th, 2014

Thanks for clarifying that Nathaniel. I’m going to make a it a point to remember.


April 8th, 2014

@Rob: Thanks for the additional info. I know that the Supreme Court can overrule all other courts (hence, the name), but I find it extremely unlikely that the SCOTUS will nullify or even damage the Civil Rights Act.

Based on my (fourth-grade) understanding of discrimination law rulings, the courts always revert to the mantra, “religious liberty ends when it violates someone else’s Constitutional rights.” The Constitutional rights, in this case, come from the Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees equal protection as a fundamental right. As far as I am aware, this argument has been used by multiple courts throughout the country over several decades.

On the other hand, I’m not sure people have a Constitutional right to subsidized contraception. At least, it’s plausible the SCOTUS could rule that way (5-4, of course).

In short, yes, things could go very badly if Hobby Lobby wins, and we may well see a challenge to discrimination law altogether if such ruling occurs. But regardless, I’m not at all worried about the future state of discrimination law.

Richard Rush

April 8th, 2014

Nathaniel, thanks for the clarification, but I don’t think it changes anything concerning the point I was trying to make. Regardless of whether it was a lawsuit, or a violation that was reported to authorities, it still resulted in a case that managed to get all the way to SCOTUS’ door, and helped spawn so-called religious freedom bills along the way.

Regan DuCasse

April 9th, 2014

Hi Richard,
Although such things as wedding vendors doesn’t seem as urgent enough to file such complaints or suits out of fear of backlash, the point is this is how getting things to change works.

I’ve confronted PHARMACISTS and gynecologists pulling this same shit thinking they can withhold legally prescribed medication because they religiously object to the patient’s need for it.
Not surprisingly, it’s mostly females who have to deal with this, over contraception medications or procedures.

They don’t care about the urgency of need, nor the likely inability to find another pharmacist who will fill the prescription.
Emboldening the religious who are displaying inconsistent and hypocritical standards of defense would be wrong.
Our side has consistency, NEED and most of all, expansion of inclusion has hurt no one unless they WANT to be offended more than they actually are.

The religious are shooting down their own defenses because they aren’t religious enough to treat ALL their customers according to religious rules, just gay ones or women.
Who are protected classes, and certainly have need to be.

As long as we remind who is listening of just how ludicrous and without merit this religious defense is and articulate it well, we win.
I’m certainly down for whatever on this.
Even the idiot backlash that won’t last long anyway.


April 10th, 2014

The constitutional rights only cover what the government is doing. The Civil Rights Act confers statutory rights, which theoretically can be limited or (eliminated) by another statute.

I would not have thought the Court would have damaged the Voting Rights Act, but it did. But even if you are right and the Court will find that the government has too much of a compelling interest in eradicating racial discrimination for it to allow religious exemptions to the Civi Rights Act, it may not feel the same way about protections for LGBT Americans. Everyone across the political spectrum claims to oppose racial discrimination. That’s not true with regard to antigay discrimination. Conservatives believe whatever problem that gay people face, it should not override the sensibilities of religious objectors. Scalia certainly would be in that camp. I’d imagine Thomas and Alito would be too. That seems like minority now, but who knows what the makeup of the Court will be then.

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