Trump Appointee Rules for Photographer in Same-Sex Wedding Discrimination Suit

Monday August 17, 2020

U.S. District Judge Justin Walker
U.S. District Judge Justin Walker  (Source:Associated Press)

A federal judge, a recent appointee by President Trump, ruled that the "Fairness Ordinance" of Louisville, Kentucky may not be used against a wedding photographer who refuses to serve same-sex couples, reports local newspaper the Louisville Courier Journal.

The Aug. 14 ruling by U.S. District Judge Justin Walker, described in the article as a "judicial conservative," contends that "America is wide enough for those who applaud same-sex marriage and those who refuse to," reported the Courier Journal.

Judge Walker's decision may have larger political implications due to his association with Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell, who has been instrumental in his meteoric rise in the federal judiciary. In March Supreme Court justice Bret Kavanaugh swore Walker to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky in Louisville. In his acceptance speech (that can be viewed on YouTube), Walker "recognized how he had gotten there at the age of 37, with zero trial experience but a pedigree in conservatism," wrote the New York Times

In April President Trump announced his intent to nominate Walker to serve as Circuit Judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. On June 18, 2020, the Senate confirmed his nomination by a vote of 51 - 42. He is currently awaiting his judicial commission, according to Wikipedia.

The New York Times speculated on the root of McConnell's mentorship of Walker. "His mother had supported a rising Republican star named Mitch McConnell when her son was just 8, Judge Walker recalled: "I've got to hand it to you, Mom. It has been extremely important to me that Kentucky's senior senator is Mitch McConnell."

In his Friday ruling Walker found that plaintiff Chelsea Nelson is protected by the First Amendment - not on religious freedom grounds, but rather freedom of speech. Recognizing photography as a form of art, Walker connected artistic expression with free speech and then drew a comparison between art and other forms of speech such as "refusing to salute the flag or marching in a parade," which Walker noted "the Supreme Court has said are protected forms of speech."

Nelson was represented by a lawyer from Alliance Defending Freedom, a right-wing organization that watchdog group the Souther Poverty Law Center has designated as a hate group.

ADF, according to the SPLC, "works to develop 'religious liberty' legislation and case law that will allow the denial of goods and services to LGBTQ people on the basis of religion." The group also "has supported the recriminalization of sexual acts between consenting LGBTQ adults in the U.S. and criminalization abroad," text at the SPLC website says.

The Courier Journal noted that Walker's argument was similar to that used in a Supreme Court case that found in favor of Colorado baker Jack Phillips, who refused to create wedding cakes for same-sex weddings, pointing to his Christian faith and claiming that his wedding cakes are works of art and therefore protected by the First Amendment.

But Walker referenced a different Supreme Court ruling in the writing of his opinion - the 2015 finding that gay and lesbian Americans have a Constitutional right to marry the people they love and commit to.

Quoting from that ruling, Walker wrote, "Just as gay and lesbian Americans 'cannot be treated as social outcasts or as inferior in dignity and worth, neither can Americans 'with a deep faith that requires them to do things passing legislative majorities might find unseemly or uncouth.' "

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