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Kennedy seems conflicted in Supreme Court wedding cake case

WASHINGTON — On a sharply divided Supreme Court, the justice in the middle seemed conflicted Tuesday in the court’s high-stakes consideration of a baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple in 2012.

The court’s fault lines were laid bare in a riveting argument that focused equally on baker Jack Phillips’ right to refuse to put his artistic talents to use in support of something in which he disagrees and the Colorado couple’s right to be treated like any other two people who wanted a cake to celebrate their marriage.

Both views were reflected in the questions and comments of Justice Anthony Kennedy, the author of all the court’s major gay-rights decisions and a fierce defender of free speech. The outcome of the case seemed to rest with the 81-year-old justice, who often finds himself with the decisive vote in cases that otherwise divide the court’s conservatives and liberals.

Phillips and the couple, Charlie Craig and David Mullins, were in the courtroom for arguments in the closely watched case that could affect other situations where there’s a clash between social conservatives’ claim of religious freedom and the LGBT community’s fight to preserve hard-won rights.

President Donald Trump’s administration is supporting Phillips in his argument that he can’t be forced to create a cake that violates his religious beliefs. It appears to be the first time the federal government has asked the justices to carve out an exception from an anti-discrimination law.

On the one hand, Kennedy pointed to photographers, florists, graphic designers and even jewelers who might likewise be able to refuse working on a same-sex wedding if the court rules for Phillips.

“It means that there’s basically an ability to boycott gay marriages,” said the author of the 2015 opinion extending same-sex marriage nationwide.

If you win, Kennedy asked Solicitor General Noel Francisco, could the baker put a sign in his window: “We do not bake cakes for gay weddings?”

When Francisco said that would be permissible, Kennedy said, “And you would not think that an affront to the gay community?”

Francisco replied that there “are dignity interests on the other side here, too.”

On the other hand, Kennedy criticized the Colorado Civil Rights Commission that found Phillips violated the state’s anti-discrimination law.

“It seems to me that the state in its position here has been neither tolerant nor respectful of Mr. Phillips’ religious beliefs,” Kennedy said. Craig and Mullins, he noted, could have been served by “other good bakery shops that were available” in the Denver suburbs.

Protesters on both sides filled the sidewalk in front of the court shortly before the start of the argument.

“We got Jack’s back,” Phillips’ supporters said. Backers of Craig and Mullins countered: “Love wins.”

Inside the packed courtroom, the liberal justices peppered Kristen Waggoner, Phillips’ lawyer, and Francisco with questions about how to draw a line to accommodate Phillips without eviscerating laws that require businesses that are open to the public to serve all customers.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan ticked off other categories of people who are involved in weddings to ask if they, too, might be able to refuse a same-sex couple.

A hair stylist? A makeup artist?

No, Waggoner said, “because it is not speech.”

Kagan replied: “Some people might say that about cakes, you know?”

More generally, Justice Stephen Breyer said, “What is the line? That’s what everybody is trying to get to.”

When Colorado Solicitor General Frederick Yarger and the American Civil Liberties Union’s David Cole stood up to defend the commission’s ruling against Phillips, the conservative justices pounced.

Because same-sex marriage was not yet legal in Colorado in 2012, Justice Samuel Alito noted, Craig and Mullins could not have obtained a marriage license where they lived or gotten a local official to marry them. Yet Phillips supposedly “committed a grave wrong” when he refused to make them a cake, Alito said. That struck him as unfair, he said.

Chief Justice John Roberts pressed both Cole and Yarger on whether a Roman Catholic legal services agency that provides free aid would have to take up a case involving a same-sex couple despite the religious opposition to gay marriage.

Yes, Cole said, “if they’ve provided the same services to couples who are straight.”

Colorado native Neil Gorsuch, taking part in the most important gay rights case since he joined the Supreme Court in April, asked Cole whether a baker who made a cake shaped like a red cross to celebrate relief efforts would have to make the same cake for the Ku Klux Klan.

Cole said no because Colorado’s anti-discrimination law refers to race, sex and sexual orientation, among other categories, but does not protect KKK members.

One other possible result that emerged from the argument is that the justices could return the case to the Colorado commission for reconsideration if the court finds its first decision was tainted by the religious bias of a commissioner. Kennedy described comments made by one of the seven Colorado commissioners in the case as hostile to religion.

The case, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, 16-111, will be decided by late June.

Iowa casino group watching Supreme Court, hopes to legalize sports gambling

DES MOINES — A pending decision by the U.S. Supreme Court could open the door to legalized sports gambling in any state that approves it.

A nonprofit organization that supports Iowa casinos plans to draft legislation that would legalize sports gambling in the state, should the U.S. Supreme Court rule in a way that makes that possible.

“I think there’s a great deal of interest among people (who want) the opportunity to bet on a game and do it in a regulated environment,” said Wes Ehrecke, president and CEO of the Iowa Gaming Association. “... I think a lot of people have a great deal of interest in sports and betting on sports.”

Americans illegally wager $150 billion on U.S. sports annually. Of the $4.7 billion wagered on last season’s Super Bowl, 97 percent was illegal, according to estimates from the American Gaming Association, which supports legalized sports betting.

Only four states — Nevada, Montana, Delaware and Oregon — are allowed to facilitate sports gambling under a 1992 federal law.

That law has been challenged by New Jersey in a case heard Monday by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Should the court rule in favor of New Jersey, all states would be free to legalize sports gambling.

The Iowa Gaming Association wants to be prepared for that possibility. Ehrecke said his organization plans to draft a bill that would legalize sports gambling in Iowa if the U.S. Supreme Court makes that possible, and hopes that bill is introduced during the upcoming legislative session.

If the high court doesn’t rule before the session ends, Ehrecke said, lawmakers could approve a bill that legalizes sports gambling contingent on a favorable ruling. Such a bill would legalize sports betting at casinos, regulated by the state gaming commission.

Iowa would legalize sports gambling within five years of a favorable Supreme Court, according to a report from the California research firm Eilers & Krejcik Gaming, The Associated Press reported. A total of 32 states would legalize sports wagering within five years, the research firm’s report said.

Legalized sports wagering could provide a financial boon to casinos and the state. Although state estimates are not available, Eilers & Krejcik estimates a legal sports gambling market would be worth more than $6 billion, the AP reported.

“It’s going to generate revenue for the state as well,” Ehrecke said. “That would go to more worthwhile causes, like our gaming revenue, and tax revenue, does now.”

Opposing New Jersey in the high court case are the professional sports leagues and the NCAA, which believe nationwide legal sports gambling would hurt the integrity of their games.

A key state lawmaker said he is taking a wait-and-see approach.

“I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves here. Once we find out what the Supreme Court says, then we really need to assess what the people of Iowa want. Do they want sports betting or not?” said Ken Rizer, a state lawmaker from Marion who chairs the House State Government Committee, through which any gambling bill would have to pass.

At the heart of the Supreme Court case is the question of the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, to what extent the federal government can force laws upon the states.

The court’s decision could have repercussions beyond sports gambling.

“(The ruling) could have repercussions in areas that go well beyond sports betting: gun control, immigration, sanctuary cities,” Daniel Wallach, a Fort Lauderdale lawyer who specializes in gaming and sports law, told the Washington Post. “It is the most important federalism case the Supreme Court has heard in many, many years.”

New Jersey has lost at every stage of its legal journey, but experts believe some of the Supreme Court justices’ questions during Monday’s hearing suggest the high court will rule in favor of the states.

Rob Green wins Cedar Falls council seat in runoff election

CEDAR FALLS — Rob Green defeated Cedar Falls businessperson LeaAnn Saul in a landslide to win an at-large Cedar Falls City Council seat in a runoff election Tuesday.

Unofficial totals show Green with 2,901 votes, or 70.5 percent, and Saul with 1,212 votes, or 29.5 percent. Green carried every precinct of the city in a 14 percent turnout.

Green, a University of Northern Iowa Rod Library employee and former president of the Overman Park Neighborhood Association, will succeed Nick Taiber, who did not seek re-election. Green and Saul were thrown into a runoff after neither gained a majority in a three-way race in the Nov. 7 municipal election.

Unofficial totals show Green gained nearly 800 votes from the municipal election in which he garnered a little more than 2,100 votes. Saul’s total dropped by nearly 600 from the Nov. 7 vote.

Green won 60 to 87 percent of the vote in each precinct and 53 percent of absentee ballots.

“The messaging I used was a very positive, very issue-driven campaign,” Green said. “I was far more comprehensive than any other candidate I’ve seen,” especially in his online materials. “I listed exactly where I stand, I was honest and that attracted people.

“I’m grateful to everyone who turned out today, and to those who supported my campaign — especially during the runoff,” Green said in a prepared statement. “I’m proud to have led a positive, constructive and nonpartisan campaign, and I’m looking forward to working with the rest of the council, staff and residents on the issues facing our city.”

Green said initially he wants city officials to engage citizens more, build neighborhood relationships and focus on improving the city’s comprehensive plan.

“I’m not jumping in as a firebrand who wants to change things right away,” he said. “The first thing is just building up trust, relationships with people.”

On specific issues, Green said he supports a “limited window” for discharging fireworks as opposed to a ban. Taiber also opposed a total ban. He also supports some kind of balance among full-time police and firefighters and cross-trained public safety officers.

Saul congratulated Green on his victory. “I hope he represents the citizens of Cedar Falls the best he can,” she said. “Now it’s time to move forward.”

Saul retains her seat on the Cedar Falls Planning and Zoning Commission and is board president of Cedar Falls Community Main Street.

The two candidates shared a laugh at Monday’s City Council meeting when Saul noted one of her campaign workers called Green’s house to seek his wife’s support.

“I think I won that vote,” Green said.

Dean Soash wins runoff election for Waverly mayor, besting incumbent Mayor Infelt

WAVERLY — It wasn’t much of a contest this time.

Dean Soash, who secured a runoff election with just a write-in campaign against Waverly’s incumbent mayor, was handily elected as the city’s next mayor Tuesday.

With nearly 62 percent of the vote, he defeated Mayor Charles Infelt, who managed just 888 votes to Soash’s 1,446.

“I don’t know if I was expecting it — you hope, because we didn’t go into this thing early on to lose — but the vote tonight was just unbelievable,” Soash said as he and his supporters celebrated Tuesday night at The Pourhouse in Waverly. “Tonight was tremendous. The apprehension is gone about how the vote was going to come out.”

Soash won outright in all of Waverly’s five wards, as well as the absentee ballot total. He garnered more than 70 percent of the votes in Ward 3.

Soash, 80, is a semi-retired electrician who spent 18 years on the city’s planning and zoning committee. He told The Courier previously he hadn’t filed papers to be in the municipal election in time because he was awaiting his wife’s approval.

That write-in candidacy may have hurt him slightly in the municipal election in November, where he received 994 votes to Infelt’s 1,010.

Soash said both he and Infelt ran “aggressive” campaigns with very different messages. But he didn’t have a bad word to say about his rival.

“Chuck ran a good campaign,” he said. “We’ve been friends for quite some time and we’ll continue to be friends. I’ll lean on him for some mentoring. He has a big chair to fill.”

Soash said previously he wanted to find ways to lower the city’s taxes and utility rates, which he maintains are too high. He also would prefer the council replace the historic green bridge with a vehicle option instead of a pedestrian one.

But first, he said, he needed to begin stitching the council back together.

“The community has been very divided because of the divisiveness of the present council,” Soash said. “My top priority is trying to, first of all, meet with city staff and try and get a meeting with council people and try to blend eight personalities — one of them being mine.”

Soash noted a second election meant he’s lost a month’s time getting to work on next year’s budget. Despite being up against the clock, however, he noted he wants to take things slow so he won’t make mistakes.

He also said he was overwhelmed by the support both inside and outside of Waverly.

“I’m so used to doing a lot of things on my own terms and own time, and so everything else that happens is an absolute bonus,” Soash said. “There’s no way that I can thank everyone enough for everything that’s happened.”




Wes Ehrecke