Monday, June 4, 2018

Quickies: Two Meanings Of “Narrow”

     The just announced Supreme Court decision in favor of Masterpiece Cakes / Jack Phillips, who had been pilloried for refusing to bake a special cake for a same-sex wedding, has been described as “narrow” despite having seven out of nine votes in the majority. That’s because there are two meanings for “narrow” when used to describe an appellate court action.

     We often hear SCOTUS decisions called “narrow” when the majority prevails by a single vote: e.g., a 5-to-4 decision. That’s a valid use of the term. Indeed, when a court decision is narrow in that sense, it can often prefigure decisions qualifying its impact and application, perhaps even a decision overturning it in years to come. Such decisions are the sort often determined by the political balance on the Court – specifically, which presidents nominated how many of the Justices – which makes them grist for the political forecasters’ mills.

     But the second meaning of “narrow” when applied to an appellate court decision is the one pertinent to the Masterpiece Cakes decision. That pertains when the majority opinion is written in such a fashion that it applies precedentally only to few cases out of a great many that would seem to share the most important features. From what I’ve read, Jack Phillips prevailed because of such an opinion: one that addresses very specific circumstances that would only apply to cases very much like his. To get another case through that “narrow” circumstantial and contextual window will require a great similarity to Phillips’s case.

     I’m still waiting for a same-sex couple to ask a Muslim baker to produce a special cake for their wedding.

1 comment:

MrGarabaldi said...

They wouldn't dare ask a muslim baker, after all they share the same identity victimology. It is ok to harass a Christian baker, after all the Christian baker represents the patriarchy/whiteprivelage/hetro/Christians don't do fatwa's