Carey v. Dixie Inn

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Carey v. Dixie Inn
Seal of the United States Supreme Court
Argued November 4, 2019
Decided February 8, 2020
Full case nameRobert Carey and Sharon Edwards v. Dixie Inn, LLC, and Sheri Lawler
Docket no.20-21
Citations101 M.S.Ct. 112
ArgumentOral argument
Opinion announcementOpinion announcement
Case history
PriorJudgment for defendants, Case No. 19-21 (Dix. 2019)
The First Amendment does not require a religious exemption to a valid and neutral law of general applicability. Supreme Court of Dixie reversed.
Court membership
Chief Justice
Associate Justices
RestrepoMU  · NEALN  · JJEagleHawk  · CuriositySMBC
Case opinion
MajorityJJEagleHawk, joined by RestrepoMU and CuriositySMBC
IAmATinman and NEALN took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. I; Religious Freedom Restoration Act; Dixie Religious Freedom Restoration Act (Dix. Stat. 761.01 et seq.)
This case overturned a previous ruling or rulings
Employment Division v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872 (1990)

Carey v. Dixie Inn, 101 M.S.Ct. 112 (2020), was a decision of the United States Supreme Court on February 8, 2020, that pertained to whether the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution invalidated a Dixie racial non-discrimination ordinance that acted to deprive a motel operator of her religious freedom to act in her religious command to uphold racial segregation. A unanimous court (with Chief Justice IAMATinman and Justice NEALN not participating) overturned the decision of the Supreme Court of Dixie for the motel operator and determined instead that the First Amendment did not offer Dixie Inn a remedy against a valid and neutral law of general applicability.

However, the Supreme Court also affirmed the lower court's use of strict scrutiny while modifying the test for free exercise purposes.

Background[edit | edit source]

On February 2, 2018, a married couple, Robert Carey (a white man) and Sharon Edwards (a Black woman) entered the premises of Dixie Inn, a motel, seeking a room with a single queen bed. Dixie Inn declined to serve the couple citing a religious belief in opposition to interracial marriages. Instead of a single room, she offered the couple separate rooms in which to sleep. The couple was appalled and accordingly left, eventually finding shelter elsewhere several hours away.

Proceedings below[edit | edit source]

Trial court[edit | edit source]

Carey and Edwards filed suit against Dixie Inn and its owner and operator Sheri Lawler in Dixie state court alleging violation of the Dixie Civil Rights Act, DIX. STAT. §§ 760.00 et seq.. Dixie Inn filed a motion to dismiss asserting that enforcement would violate the Dixie and federal constitutions’ guarantee to freedom of religion and would also violate the Dixie Religious Freedom Restoration Act, DIX. STAT. 761.00 et seq. The trial court agreed with Dixie Inn on all points.

Dixie Court of Appeal[edit | edit source]

Carey and Edwards appealed to the Dixie District Court of Appeal in Carey v. Dixie Inn, 2018 Dx. App. 0001 (2018), which, over a dissent, reversed the trial court on the constitutional defenses but affirmed as to the Dixie Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Not long after the announcement of the Dixie Supreme Court's decision, the Dixie appellate judge who authored the Court of Appeal decision in Dixie Inn's favor was discovered to have associated with members of the Ku Klux Klan, as evidenced by a photograph of him with a man in a Klan robe. The Dixie state assembly held hearings on the matter.

Dixie Supreme Court[edit | edit source]

Carey and Edwards then again appealed, this time to the Dixie Supreme Court in Carey v. Dixie Inn, Case No. 19-21 (DX 2019). Shocking many legal observers, the Dixie Supreme Court held for Dixie Inn on all counts, finding that the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the Dixie Constitution, and the Dixie Religious Freedom Restoration Act all protected Dixie Inn and Lawler from liability under the Dixie Civil Rights Act.

A notable point of contention before the Dixie Supreme Court was the appropriate governing standard to determine whether a burden upon religious exercise was constitutional under the First Amendment. Dixie Inn, and ultimately the Dixie Supreme Court, asserted that the Supreme Court’s decision in Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972) provided the appropriate test. Under Yoder, the government must show that the burden imposed is narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling government interest (the “strict scrutiny” test). Carey, Edwards, and the appeals court, had found that the appropriate test was set forth in Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872 (1990), which requires only that the government show the burden is reasonably related to a legitimate government interest as long as the government action is neutral and generally applicable (the “rational basis” test).

The Dixie Supreme Court applied Yoder without any explanation at all. Presumably, however, this was based upon Dixie Inn’s argument in briefing that In re: Stopping Abuse and Indoctrination of Children Act of 2015, 100 M.S. Ct. 111 (2016) had impliedly overruled Smith when it applied Yoder. Also notable in Dixie Inn was the Dixie Supreme Court’s refusal to question whether a litigant’s religious beliefs are “sincere.”

Aftermath of Dixie Supreme Court decision[edit | edit source]

Following the announcement of Dixie Inn, a federal appeals court applied the decision in Secessionland Skating Rink LLC v. Connolly, F.3d 1 (Dix. Cir. Sept. 2019). In Secessionland, an interfaith couple seeking a wedding venue was denied services on the basis that the owner of a skating rink “disliked” Baptists marrying outside of the religion. Over a passionate dissent, the majority in Secessionland held, like the court in Dixie Inn, that strict scrutiny--not rational basis--is the appropriate test when considering the constitutionality of a government imposition on a religious belief. Furthermore, following Dixie Inn, Secessionland found that it was “inappropriate” to question whether the religious beliefs asserted were in fact “sincere.” Accordingly, the court found that Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 could not be constitutionally applied where a defendant raises a religious objection.

In Freeman v. Ramrod Night Club, Inc., Melissa Freeman filed a lawsuit in state court alleging that Ramrod Night Club, Inc., a gay club, had discriminated against her on the basis of her sex, female, by prohibiting her from entering its premises and through its policy prohibiting bachelorette parties from entering its premises. Ramrod conceded that it was discriminating but invoked the Dixie court’s decision in Carey in its defense, alleging that its owner had a sincerely-held religious opposition to heterosexuality. The trial court agreed and dismissed the action.

Opinion of the Court[edit | edit source]

On November 2, 2019, counsel for Carey and Edwards filed a petition for certiorari with the United States Supreme Court, alleging the Dixie Supreme Court erred by (1) it had erroneously applied strict scrutiny and (2) in any event, the court should have found strict scrutiny met. Dixie Inn opposed certiorari through its counsel former Supreme Court Justice BSDDC on the grounds that (1) the decision below rested upon independent and adequate state grounds, so review was precluded, (2) application of strict scrutiny was appropriate, and (3) Carey and Edwards had failed to meet their burden in showing the government action met the requirements of strict scrutiny.

In Dixie Inn and Lawler’s merits brief, BSDDC again argued that the Supreme Court lacked jurisdiction on the grounds that “the state supreme courts are the final arbiters of state law questions.” According to BSDDC, since the Supreme Court “lacks the authority to reverse” the Dixie Supreme Court’s holding on state law--which comprised two of the three issues on appeal--no judgment from the Supreme Court would change the result below. BSDDC also renewed the argument that the Supreme Court had abandoned the Smith test in In re: Stopping Abuse and Indoctrination of Children Act. Finally, BSDDC argued that Dixie Inn and Lawler would prevail under Yoder.

Reactions[edit | edit source]

The announcement of the ruling was met with swift condemnation by a variety of politicians. Attorney General Dewey Cheatem issued a Department of Justice memorandum criticizing the ruling, asserting that it was plagued by "fatal errors." Senator Prelate Zertaul (R-DX) took to Twitter to make a variety of objections to the decision including the tone, which he called "unbecoming and beneath the dignity of the Supreme Court," the lengthy delay in issuing the decision, and failure to address to the ruling of the court below. Counsel for the Respondents, BSDDC, criticized the decision for inappropriately resolving questions of state law, its "flippant and disrespectful" tone, and failure to address several of the Respondents' arguments.

Subsequent developments[edit | edit source]

Due to lack of clarity in the Court's decision, an ongoing legal debate exists over whether the use of strict scrutiny in religious freedom cases is a binding holding or simply obiter dicta. Three states--Atlantic (BirackObama v. TheCloudCappedStar), Chesapeake (Singh v. Pythagoras Academies), and Dixie (In Re B.092 - End Childhood Marriage Act) have held that Dixie Inn established that strict scrutiny applies to free exercise claims. Meanwhile, Sierra (In re: San Francisco Resolution No. 190841, In Re: California Code, Penal Code PEN § 281) has refused to apply the standard to cases since Dixie Inn.

In In re: FDA Blood Donation Guidance and Related Regulations, 101 M.S.Ct. 115 (2020), the Supreme Court attempted to clarify its ruling in Dixie Inn but failed to resolve the disagreements surrounding the case. In FDA Blood Donation Guidance the Court held that it "fully reaffirm[ed] the test as articulated today regardless of any concern our decision in the Dixie Inn matter altered that analysis." The Court also stated that the Sierra court in In re: San Francisco Resolution No. 190841 was "entirely correct" but failed to specify what the Sierra court was "entirely correct" about with regard to the strict scrutiny analysis.

In a later development, the United States Congress codified its opposition to the application of strict scrutiny in civil rights cases by enacting the Robert Carey and Sharon Edwards Equality in Public Accommodations Act within the Civil Rights Act of 2020, which amended the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act to exempt the enforcement of civil rights statutes from its protections.

See also[edit | edit source]