SCOTUS Punts on Gay Wedding Cake, Nun Cases

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The United States Supreme Court on Monday avoided taking action on two potentially inflammatory cases that touched on issues of religious liberty.

The first case, Klein v. Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, concerned a pair of Oregon bakers who cited religious objections in declining to bake a cake for a lesbian couple's wedding in 2013, PBS reports. The baker couple, Melissa and Aaron Klein, were obliged to pay Rachel Bowman-Cryer $135,000 in restitution after refusing to provide a cake for her wedding, a finding that an Oregon appellate court upheld.

But the Supreme Court, in a "Grant, Vacate, Remand" order, voided the lower court's holding and ordered the Oregon appellate judges to reconsider it in light of last term's 7-2 win for a Colorado baker with similar religious objections in Masterpiece Cakeshop. The Klein ruling was issued prior to the Masterpiece ruling, and had sat in "limbo" prior to today's GVR, according to PBS.

In addition to the Klein GVR, the Court declined to hear Little Sisters of the Poor v. California, an ongoing dispute between an order of nuns and the state of California.

The nuns previously sought and won a religious exemption from the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive coverage mandate, an exemption that was further secured by the Trump administration late last year through new HHS rules. However, a coalition of states led by California sued to block the implementation of those same rules. The Little Sisters, who stood to lose the most from a court blocking the administrative exemption, yet again became the face of the lawsuit.

The Supreme Court declined to hear that suit Monday, although exactly why is not obvious. Consequently, the ruling of the lower California court stands. What will become of the administrative exemption to the contraceptive mandate also remains unclear.