Supreme Court doesn’t signal move in same-sex photography case

The United States Supreme Court didn’t say on Monday morning if it would accept or deny a highly publicized case about a New Mexico photographer who refused to shoot a same-sex commitment ceremony.


The Court released a list of orders on its website at 9:30 a.m., but the case of Elane Photography v. Willock wasn’t on the list of cases that learned their fate. The Court now has the case on its private conference list for March 28.

If accepted, the case would be heard in the Court’s next term, starting in October. But for now, Court watchers will need to wait.

Elane Photography v. Willock received even more publicity during the recent controversy in neighboring Arizona over a proposed change to that state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The case started in 2006, when Vanessa Willock of Albuquerque , N.M., contacted Elane Photography to ask whether the business would take pictures of her commitment ceremony to another woman. Elane Photography said it would only take photos of “traditional weddings,” and turned away the business.

Later, the couple hired a different studio, and the commitment ceremony proceeded. Willock filed a discrimination complaint under New Mexico law, which protects people against discrimination based on sexual orientation under its own public accommodations laws.

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Republican lawmakers in Arizona decided to pursue their own legal changes after the Elane Photography ruling, but Arizona’s outgoing governor, Jan Brewer, vetoed the Arizona bill.

In briefs filed with the Supreme Court, the key question in the case centered on the photographer’s claim that the New Mexico law creates a conflict with her religious beliefs and violates the First Amendment’s ban on compelled speech.

The federal version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act dates back to 1993, when it was passed by Congress after a controversial Supreme Court decision in 1990 angered liberals and conservatives. But after Congress passed RFRA, the Supreme Court ruled in 1997 that the Act couldn’t be applied to states.

Currently, 21 states have their own versions of RFRA laws and the future of those acts could hinge on developments at the federal level and in cases like the Elane Photography case.

In the New Mexico case, the defendant couldn’t invoke that state’s version of RFRA, because it was a lawsuit between two parties not involving the state.

More on RFRA and Religious Rights

In addition to our coverage of Hobby Lobby, listen to the NCC’s Jeffrey Rosen, Cornell’s Michael Dorf and NYU’s Richard Epstein on our We The People podcast discuss the broader issues of religious exemptions and how they could affect discrimination laws. Download podcast or use player below:

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