High court declines cases about same-sex marriage, campaigns, executions


WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of a lower court ruling that said a New Mexico photographer violated the state’s human rights law by refusing to photograph a commitment ceremony for a same-sex couple.

The court April 7 also declined to review a case brought by the Iowa Right to Life Committee, challenging Iowa’s law prohibiting corporate contributions in state elections. A lower court had upheld the law, which bans direct contributions to candidates and committees by corporations, but allows unions to make such contributions.

And on a third issue, the court declined to take up cases over the type of chemicals that states use to execute inmates.

There was no comment from the court in rejecting the cases.

The New Mexico case had originally raised religious rights issues, but that line of legal challenge was dropped. Instead, the question the court was asked to consider was whether the state law unconstitutionally infringes on the photographers’ free speech rights.

At issue was Elaine Huguenin’s refusal to photograph a commitment ceremony for Vanessa Willock and Misti Collinsworth.

The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that under the New Mexico Human Rights Act, Elane Photography, Huguenin’s business, is a public accommodation and therefore is subject to its anti-discrimination provisions “and must serve same-sex couples on the same basis that it serves opposite-sex couples. Therefore, when Elane Photography refused to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony, it violated the (anti-discrimination law) in the same way as if it had refused to photograph a wedding between people of different races.”

The case has figured prominently in actions by other states to try to enact laws that would allow businesses to refuse to participate as service providers in same-sex marriages when the owners believe that to do so would conflict with their beliefs that such marriages are wrong.

In the Iowa case, the court left intact a ruling by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that said upheld the state law banning corporate political contributions. Right to Life had sued, saying the law violates equal protection principles by allowing campaign contributions from unions but not corporations, and that such bans violate the First Amendment.

The 8th Circuit had overruled parts of the Iowa law, such as some disclosure requirements, but left intact the prohibition on corporate contributions. Last week the Supreme Court in a 5-4 ruling struck down dollar limits on how much an individual may contribute to a political campaign.

The court also declined to get involved in two cases questioning whether inmates have a right to know what drugs states plan to use to execute them.

A shortage of the lethal drugs used for years in executions has led to changes in the systems states use. In executions in Ohio and Oklahoma in January, witnesses reported apparently painful, lengthy struggles as inmates were killed. The cases the court declined to hear were filed by inmates in Missouri and Louisiana who sought to know the type of execution they faced.