303 Creative LLC v. Elenis

Decided: June 30, 2023
Citation: 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, 600 U.S. ___ (2023)
Appeal from: Tenth Circuit
Case document: 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis

Facts of the case
Colorado website designer Lori Smith owns 303 Creative, LLC., a limited liability company providing website creation services. When Smith’s services expanded to include wedding websites, she wanted to create a message on her webpage explaining that her Christian faith prohibited her from designing websites for same-sex weddings. Upon noticing that this message would violate Colorado’s anti-discrimination laws, Smith sued the state in a pre-enforcement challenge. The U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado ruled against Smith, upholding the constitutionality of the laws. She then appealed to the Tenth Circuit, which ruled in favor of Colorado, causing Smith to petition to the Supreme Court.

Question for the Court
The Court considered whether forcing a website designer to create designs going against her personal beliefs violated her First Amendment rights.

Decision
In a 6-3 decision by Justice Gorsuch, the Court ruled that Colorado could not force the designer to create designs that go against her beliefs. Justice Gorsuch concluded that requiring Smith to create certain designs violates the compelled speech doctrine and that, in his perspective, Smith refused to create particular messages rather than refusing to serve particular clients. Justice Sotomayor filed a dissenting opinion in which Justices Kagan and Jackson joined, arguing that the law regulated Smith’s conduct, not her speech. Sotomayor wrote, “Today, the Court, for the first time in its history, grants a business open to the public a constitutional right to refuse to serve members of a protected class.”

Free press implications
The ruling is intentionally narrow; only prohibiting a vendor from being compelled to create a product that is both customized and expressive when the vendor disagrees with the message being conveyed by the product. How this may impact news publishers or magazines remains to be seen as the ruling gets applied to other scenarios. However, it may come into play if a publisher finds itself subject to a law that attempts to compel speech or create a “right of reply” (see Miami Herald Pub. Co. v. Tornillo that overturned Florida’s “right of reply” law).

For further reading, please visit:
SCOTUS blog: 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis

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