Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd., et al. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission et al.

Certiorari To The Court Of Appeals Of Colorado

No. 16-111. Argued December 5, 2017--Decided June 4, 2018

Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd., is a Colorado bakery owned and operated by Jack Phillips, an expert baker and devout Christian. In 2012 he told a same-sex couple that he would not create a cake for their wedding celebration because of his religious opposition to same-sex marriages—marriages that Colorado did not then recognize—but that he would sell them other baked goods, e.g., birthday cakes. The couple filed a charge with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission (Commission) pursuant to the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act (CADA), which prohibits, as relevant here, discrimination based on sexual orientation in a “place of business engaged in any sales to the public and any place offering services . . . to the public.” Under CADA’s administrative review system, the Colorado Civil Rights Division first found probable cause for a violation and referred the case to the Commission. The Commission then referred the case for a formal hearing before a state Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), who ruled in the couple’s favor. In so doing, the ALJ rejected Phillips’ First Amendment claims: that requiring him to create a cake for a same-sex wedding would violate his right to free speech by compelling him to exercise his artistic talents to express a message with which he disagreed and would violate his right to the free exercise of religion. Both the Commission and the Colorado Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: The Commission’s actions in this case violated the Free Exercise Clause. Pp. 9–18.

(a) The laws and the Constitution can, and in some instances must, protect gay persons and gay couples in the exercise of their civil rights, but religious and philosophical objections to gay marriage are protected views and in some instances protected forms of expression. See Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U. S. ___, ___. While it is unexceptional that Colorado law can protect gay persons in acquiring products and services on the same terms and conditions as are offered to other members of the public, the law must be applied in a manner that is neutral toward religion. To Phillips, his claim that using his artistic skills to make an expressive statement, a wedding endorsement in his own voice and of his own creation, has a significant First Amendment speech component and implicates his deep and sincere religious beliefs. His dilemma was understandable in 2012, which was before Colorado recognized the validity of gay marriages performed in the State and before this Court issued United States v. Windsor, 570 U. S. 744, or Obergefell. Given the State’s position at the time, there is some force to Phillips’ argument that he was not unreasonable in deeming his decision lawful. State law at the time also afforded storekeepers some latitude to decline to create specific messages they considered offensive. Indeed, while the instant enforcement proceedings were pending, the State Civil Rights Division concluded in at least three cases that a baker acted lawfully in declining to create cakes with decorations that demeaned gay persons or gay marriages. Phillips too was entitled to a neutral and respectful consideration of his claims in all the circumstances of the case. Pp. 9–12.

(b) That consideration was compromised, however, by the Commission’s treatment of Phillips’ case, which showed elements of a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs motivating his objection. As the record shows, some of the commissioners at the Commission’s formal, public hearings endorsed the view that religious beliefs cannot legitimately be carried into the public sphere or commercial domain, disparaged Phillips’ faith as despicable and characterized it as merely rhetorical, and compared his invocation of his sincerely held religious beliefs to defenses of slavery and the Holocaust. No commissioners objected to the comments. Nor were they mentioned in the later state-court ruling or disavowed in the briefs filed here. The comments thus cast doubt on the fairness and impartiality of the Commission’s adjudication of Phillips’ case.

Another indication of hostility is the different treatment of Phillips’ case and the cases of other bakers with objections to anti-gay messages who prevailed before the Commission. The Commission ruled against Phillips in part on the theory that any message on the requested wedding cake would be attributed to the customer, not to the baker. Yet the Division did not address this point in any of the cases involving requests for cakes depicting anti-gay marriage symbolism. The Division also considered that each bakery was willing to sell other products to the prospective customers, but the Commission found Phillips’ willingness to do the same irrelevant. The State Court of Appeals’ brief discussion of this disparity of treatment does not answer Phillips’ concern that the State’s practice was to disfavor the religious basis of his objection. Pp. 12–16.

(c) For these reasons, the Commission’s treatment of Phillips’ case violated the State’s duty under the First Amendment not to base laws or regulations on hostility to a religion or religious viewpoint. The government, consistent with the Constitution’s guarantee of free exercise, cannot impose regulations that are hostile to the religious beliefs of affected citizens and cannot act in a manner that passes judgment upon or presupposes the illegitimacy of religious beliefs and practices. Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. Hialeah, 508 U. S. 520. Factors relevant to the assessment of governmental neutrality include “the historical background of the decision under challenge, the specific series of events leading to the enactment or official policy in question, and the legislative or administrative history, including contemporaneous statements made by members of the decisionmaking body.” Id., at 540. In view of these factors, the record here demonstrates that the Commission’s consideration of Phillips’ case was neither tolerant nor respectful of his religious beliefs. The Commission gave “every appearance,” id., at 545, of adjudicating his religious objection based on a negative normative “evaluation of the particular justification” for his objection and the religious grounds for it, id., at 537, but government has no role in expressing or even suggesting whether the religious ground for Phillips’ conscience-based objection is legitimate or illegitimate. The inference here is thus that Phillips’ religious objection was not considered with the neutrality required by the Free Exercise Clause. The State’s interest could have been weighed against Phillips’ sincere religious objections in a way consistent with the requisite religious neutrality that must be strictly observed. But the official expressions of hostility to religion in some of the commissioners’ comments were inconsistent with that requirement, and the Commission’s disparate consideration of Phillips’ case compared to the cases of the other bakers suggests the same. Pp. 16–18.

370 P. 3d 272, reversed.

Kennedy, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C. J., and Breyer, Alito, Kagan, and Gorsuch, JJ., joined. Kagan, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which Breyer, J., joined. Gorsuch, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which Alito, J., joined. Thomas, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, in which Gorsuch, J., joined. Ginsburg, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Sotomayor, J., joined.

Lamar, Archer & Cofrin, LLP v. Appling

Certiorari To The United States Court Of Appeals For The Eleventh Circuit

No. 16-1215. Argued April 17, 2018--Decided June 4, 2018

Respondent R. Scott Appling fell behind on his bills owed to petitioner law firm Lamar, Archer & Cofrin, LLP, which threatened to withdraw representation and place a lien on its work product if Appling did not pay. Appling told Lamar that he could cover owed and future legal expenses with an expected tax refund, so Lamar agreed to continue representation. However, Appling used the refund, which was for much less than he had stated, for business expenses. When he met with Lamar again, he told the firm he was still waiting on the refund, so Lamar agreed to complete pending litigation. Appling never paid the final invoice, so Lamar sued him and obtained a judgment. Shortly thereafter, Appling and his wife filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Lamar initiated an adversary proceeding against Appling in Bankruptcy Court, arguing that his debt to Lamar was nondischargeable pursuant to 11 U. S. C. 523(a)(2)(A), which bars discharge of specified debts arising from “false pretenses, a false representation, or actual fraud, other than a statement respecting the debtor’s . . . financial condition.” Appling moved to dismiss on the ground that his alleged misrepresentations were “statement[s] respecting the debtor’s . . . financial condition,” which 523(a)(2)(B) requires to be “in writing.” The Bankruptcy Court disagreed and denied Appling’s motion. Finding that Appling knowingly made two false representations on which Lamar justifiably relied and that Lamar incurred damages as a result, the court concluded that Appling’s debt to Lamar was nondischargeable under 523(a)(2)(A). The District Court affirmed, but the Eleventh Circuit reversed, holding that a “statement respecting the debtor’s financial condition” may include a statement about a single asset. Because Appling’s statements were not in writing, the court held, 523(a)(2)(B) did not bar him from discharging his debt to Lamar.

Held: A statement about a single asset can be a “statement respecting the debtor’s financial condition” under 523(a)(2). Pp. 4–15.

(a) The key word in the relevant statutory phrase here is the preposition “respecting.” In ordinary usage, “respecting” means “concerning; about; regarding; in regard to; relating to.” Lamar contends that the definitions “about,” “concerning,” “with reference to,” and “as regards” denote a more limited scope than “related to.” And under that more limited meaning, Lamar asserts, a formal financial statement providing a detailed accounting of one’s assets and liabilities would qualify as “a statement respecting the debtor’s financial condition,” but a statement about a single asset would not. But the overlapping and circular definitions of these words belie the clear distinction Lamar attempts to impose. And the firm gives no example of a phrase in a legal context similar to the one at issue here in which toggling between “related to” and “about” has any pertinent significance.

Use of the word “respecting” in a legal context generally has a broadening effect, ensuring that a provision’s scope covers not only its subject but also matters relating to that subject. Cf. Kleppe v. New Mexico, 426 U. S. 529, 539. Indeed, this Court has typically read the phrase “relating to”—one of respecting’s meanings—expansively. See, e.g., Coventry Health Care of Mo., Inc. v. Nevils, 581 U. S. ___, ___. Appling and the United States, as amicus curiae, accordingly advance an expansive interpretation here. This Court agrees with them that, given the ordinary meaning of “respecting,” Lamar’s statutory construction must be rejected, for it reads “respecting” out of the statute. See TRW Inc. v. Andrews, 534 U. S. 19, 31. Had Congress intended 523(a)(2)(B) to encompass only statements expressing the balance of a debtor’s assets and liabilities, it could have so specified—e.g., “statement of the debtor’s financial condition.” The Court also agrees that a statement is “respecting” a debtor’s financial condition if it has a direct relation to or impact on the debtor’s overall financial status. A single asset has a direct relation to and impact on aggregate financial condition, so a statement about that asset bears on a debtor’s overall financial condition and can help indicate whether a debtor is solvent or insolvent. A statement about a single asset, thus, can be a “statement respecting the debtor’s financial condition.” Pp. 5–9.

(b) Lamar’s interpretation would yield incoherent results. For instance, on Lamar’s view, a misrepresentation about a single asset made in the context of a formal financial statement or balance sheet would constitute a “statement respecting the debtor’s financial condition” and trigger 523(a)(2)(B)’s heightened nondischargeability requirements, but the same misrepresentation made on its own, or in the context of a list of some but not all of the debtor’s assets and liabilities, would not. Lamar does not explain why Congress would draw such seemingly arbitrary distinctions. Pp. 9–10.

(c) The statutory history of the phrase “statement respecting the debtor’s financial condition” corroborates this Court’s reading. Between 1926, when the phrase was introduced, and 1978, when Congress enacted the Bankruptcy Code, Courts of Appeals consistently construed the phrase to encompass statements addressing just one or some of a debtor’s assets or liabilities. When Congress used the materially same language in 523(a)(2), it presumptively was aware of this longstanding judicial interpretation and intended for the phrase to retain its established meaning. Pp. 10–11.

(d) Lamar’s additional arguments are unpersuasive. First, Lamar contends that Appling’s construction gives 523(a)(2)(B) an implausibly broad reach, such that little would be covered by 523(a)(2)(A)’s general rule rendering nondischargeable debts arising from “false pretenses, a false representation, or actual fraud.” But 523(a)(2)(A) still retains significant function when the phrase “statement respecting the debtor’s financial condition” is interpreted to encompass a statement about a single asset. See, e.g., Husky Int’l Electronics, Inc. v. Ritz, 578 U. S. ___, ___. Second, Lamar asserts that Appling’s interpretation is inconsistent with the overall principle that the Bankruptcy Code exists to afford relief only to the “ ‘honest but unfortunate debtor.’ ” Cohen v. de la Cruz, 523 U. S. 213, 217. The text of 523(a)(2), however, plainly heightens the bar to discharge when the fraud at issue was effectuated via a “statement respecting the debtor’s financial condition.” The heightened requirements, moreover, are not a shield for dishonest debtors. Rather, they reflect Congress’ effort to balance the potential misuse of such statements by both debtors and creditors. See Field v. Mans, 516 U. S. 59, 76–77. Pp. 12–15.

848 F. 3d 953, affirmed.

Sotomayor, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C. J., and Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan, JJ., joined, and in which Thomas, Alito, and Gorsuch, JJ., joined as to all but Part III–B.

Hughes v. United States

Certiorari To The United States Court Of Appeals For The Eleventh Circuit

No. 17-155. Argued March 27, 2018--Decided June 4, 2018

In Freeman v. United States, 564 U. S. 522, this Court considered whether a prisoner who had been sentenced under a plea agreement authorized by the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure could have his sentence reduced under 18 U. S. C. 3582(c)(2) when his Federal Guidelines sentencing range was lowered retroactively. No single interpretation or rationale commanded a majority, however. Some Courts of Appeals, turning to Marks v. United States, 430 U. S. 188, for guidance, adopted the reasoning of Justice Sotomayor’s opinion concurring in the judgment. Others interpreted Marks differently and adopted the plurality’s reasoning. Because this Court can now resolve the substantive, sentencing issue discussed in Freeman, it is unnecessary to reach questions regarding the proper application of Marks.

The Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 authorizes the United States Sentencing Commission to establish, and retroactively amend, Sentencing Guidelines. Though the Guidelines are only advisory, see United States v. Booker, 543 U. S. 220, a district court must consult them during sentencing, id., at 264, along with other factors specified in 18 U. S. C. 3553(a), including “the need to avoid unwarranted sentence disparities,” 3553(a)(6). When an amendment applies retroactively, district courts may reduce the sentences of prisoners whose sentences were “based on a sentencing range that has subsequently been lowered by the Sentencing Commission.” 3582(c)(2).

This case concerns the issue whether a defendant may seek relief under 3582(c)(2) if he entered a plea agreement under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(c)(1)(C) (Type-C agreement), which permits the defendant and the Government to “agree that a specific sentence or sentencing range is the appropriate disposition of the case,” and “binds the court [to the agreed-upon sentence] once [it] accepts the plea agreement.” In making its decision, the district court must consider the Sentencing Guidelines. And it may not accept the agreement unless the sentence is within the applicable Guidelines range, or it is outside that range for justifiable reasons specifically set out.

After petitioner Erik Hughes was indicted on drug and gun charges, he and the Government negotiated a Type-C plea agreement, which stipulated that Hughes would receive a sentence of 180 months but did not refer to a particular Guidelines range. Hughes pleaded guilty. At his sentencing hearing, the District Court accepted the agreement and sentenced him to 180 months. In so doing, it calculated Hughes’ Guidelines range as 188 to 235 months and determined that the sentence was in accordance with the Guidelines and other factors the court was required to consider. Less than two months later, the Sentencing Commission adopted, and made retroactive, an amendment that had the effect of reducing Hughes’ sentencing range to 151 to 188 months. The District Court denied Hughes’ motion for a reduced sentence under 3582(c)(2), and the Eleventh Circuit affirmed. Both courts concluded that, under the Freeman concurrence, Hughes was ineligible for a reduced sentence because his plea agreement did not expressly rely on a Guidelines range.


1. A sentence imposed pursuant to a Type-C agreement is “based on” the defendant’s Guidelines range so long as that range was part of the framework the district court relied on in imposing the sentence or accepting the agreement. Pp. 7–14.

(a) A principal purpose of the Sentencing Guidelines is to promote sentencing uniformity. But in the aftermath of Freeman, a defendant’s eligibility for a reduced sentence under 3582(c)(2) turns on the Circuit in which the case arises. Even within Circuits that follow the Freeman concurrence, unwarranted disparities have resulted depending on whether a defendant’s Type-C agreement has a specific-enough reference to a Guidelines range. This Court’s precedents since Freeman have confirmed that the Guidelines remain the foundation of federal sentencing decisions. See, e.g., Peugh v. United States, 569 U. S. 530; Molina-Martinez v. United States, 578 U. S. ___. Pp. 7–9.

(b) A district court imposes a sentence that is “based on” a Guidelines range for purposes of 3582(c)(2) if the range was a basis for the court’s exercise of discretion in imposing a sentence. Given the standard legal definition of “base,” there will be no question in the typical case that the defendant’s Guidelines range was a basis for his sentence. A district court is required to calculate and consider a defendant’s Guidelines range in every case. 3553(a). Indeed, the Guidelines are “the starting point for every sentencing calculation in the federal system.” Peugh, supra, at 542. Thus, in general, 3582(c)(2) allows district courts to reconsider a prisoner’s sentence based on a new starting point—that is, a lower Guidelines range—and determine whether a reduction is appropriate.

A sentence imposed pursuant to a Type-C agreement is no exception to the general rule that a defendant’s Guidelines range is the starting point and a basis for his ultimate sentence. The Government and the defendant may agree to a specific sentence, but the Sentencing Guidelines prohibit district courts from accepting Type-C agreements without first evaluating the recommended sentence in light of the defendant’s Guidelines range. So in the usual case the court’s acceptance of a Type-C agreement and the sentence to be imposed pursuant to that agreement are “based on” the defendant’s Guidelines range. Since the Guidelines are a district court’s starting point, when the Commission lowers the range, the defendant will be eligible for relief under 3582(c)(2) absent clear demonstration, based on the record as a whole, that the court would have imposed the same sentence regardless of the Guidelines.

This interpretation furthers 3582(c)(2)’s purpose, as well as the broader purposes of the Sentencing Reform Act. It is also reinforced by Molina-Martinez and Peugh, which both confirm that the Guidelines remain a basis for almost all federal sentences. Experience has shown that, although the interpretation proffered by Justice Sotomayor’s concurring opinion in Freeman could be one permissible reading of 3582(c)(2), as a systemic, structural matter the system Congress put in place is best implemented by the interpretation confirmed in this case. Pp. 9–12.

(c) The Government’s counterarguments—that allowing defendants with Type-C agreements to seek reduced sentences under 3582(c)(2) would deprive the Government of a benefit of its bargain, namely, the defendant’s agreement to a particular sentence; and that allowing courts to reduce the sentences of defendants like Hughes would be inconsistent with one of the Commission’s policy statements—are unpersuasive. Pp. 12–14.

2. Hughes is eligible for relief under 3582(c)(2). The District Court accepted his Type-C agreement after concluding that a 180-month sentence was consistent with the Guidelines, and then calculated Hughes’ sentencing range and imposed a sentence it deemed “compatible” with the Guidelines. The sentencing range was thus a basis for the sentence imposed. And that range has since been lowered by the Commission. The District Court has discretion to decide whether to reduce Hughes’ sentence after considering the 3553(a) factors and the Commission’s relevant policy statements. P. 14.

849 F. 3d 1008, reversed and remanded.

Kennedy, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan, and Gorsuch, JJ., joined. Sotomayor, J., filed a concurring opinion. Roberts, C. J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Thomas and Alito, JJ., joined.

Koons et al. v. United States

Certiorari To The United States Court Of Appeals For The Eighth Circuit

No. 17-5716. Argued March 27, 2018--Decided June 4, 2018

The five petitioners pleaded guilty to drug conspiracy charges that subjected them to mandatory minimum sentences under 21 U. S. C. 841(b)(1). Before imposing their sentences, the District Court calculated their advisory Guidelines ranges. But because the top end of the Guidelines ranges fell below the mandatory minimums, the court concluded that the mandatory minimums superseded the Guidelines ranges. After discarding these ranges, the court departed downward from the mandatory minimums under 18 U. S. C. 3553(e) to reflect petitioners’ substantial assistance to the Government in prosecuting other drug offenders. In settling on the final sentences, the court considered the relevant “substantial assistance factors” set out in the Guidelines, but it did not consider the original Guidelines ranges that it had earlier discarded.

After petitioners were sentenced, the Sentencing Commission amended the Guidelines and reduced the base offense levels for certain drug offenses, including those for which petitioners were convicted. Petitioners sought sentence reductions under 3582(c)(2), which makes defendants eligible if they were sentenced “based on a sentencing range” that was later lowered by the Sentencing Commission. The courts below held that petitioners were not eligible because they could not show that their sentences were “based on” the now-lowered Guidelines ranges.

Held: Petitioners do not qualify for sentence reductions under 3582(c)(2) because their sentences were not “based on” their lowered Guidelines ranges but, instead, were “based on” their mandatory minimums and on their substantial assistance to the Government. Pp. 3–7.

(a) For a sentence to be “based on” a lowered Guidelines range, the range must have at least played “a relevant part [in] the framework the [sentencing] judge used” in imposing the sentence. Hughes v. United States, ante, at ___. Petitioners’ sentences do not fall into this category because the District Court did not consider the Guidelines ranges in imposing its ultimate sentences. On the contrary, the court scrapped the ranges in favor of the mandatory minimums and never considered the ranges again. Thus, petitioners may not receive 3582(c)(2) sentence reductions. Pp. 3–5.

(b) Petitioners’ four counterarguments are unavailing. First, they insist that because this Court has said that the Guidelines ranges serve as “the starting point for every sentencing calculation in the federal system,” Peugh v. United States, 569 U. S. 530, 542, all sentences are “based on” Guidelines ranges. But that does not follow. Just because district courts routinely calculate defendants’ Guidelines ranges does not mean that any sentence subsequently imposed must be regarded as “based on” a Guidelines range. What matters instead is the role that the Guidelines range played in the selection of the sentence eventually imposed. And here the ranges played no relevant role. Second, petitioners argue that even if their sentences were not actually based on the Guidelines ranges, they are eligible under 3582(c)(2) because their sentences should have been based on those ranges. But even assuming that this is the correct interpretation of “based on,” petitioners are not eligible because the District Court made no mistake in sentencing them. The court properly discarded their Guidelines ranges and permissibly considered only factors related to substantial assistance when departing downward. Third, petitioners stress that the Sentencing Commission’s policy statement shows that defendants in their shoes should be eligible for sentence reductions. Policy statements, however, cannot make defendants eligible when 3582(c)(2) makes them ineligible. Fourth, petitioners contend that the Court’s rule creates unjustifiable sentencing disparities, but, in fact, the rule avoids such disparities. Identically situated defendants sentenced today may receive the same sentences petitioners received, and those defendants, like petitioners, are not eligible for sentence reductions under 3582(c)(2). Pp. 5–7.

850 F. 3d 973, affirmed.

Alito, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.