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Posts for December 2017

Judicial Whirlwind is a Positive Sign for 2018 and Beyond…

Whew!! 2017 has been a whirlwind of activity with President Trump winding down his inaugural year in office. Lost behind many of the sensational headlines and storylines has been a record-setting year of judicial appointments that will help to shape our culture not only in 2018 and into the 2020 mid-terms, but also for years to come. The future looks bright for those of us who embrace our God-ordained religious freedoms.

Making good on one of his central campaign promises, President Trump has already seen 12 of his federal appeals court nominations, a record for first-year presidential appointments. The previous record was 11 by Presidents Kennedy and Nixon. The conservative nominees all solidly embrace the U.S. Constitution; no revisionists among them. In addition to their conservative philosophies, many of Trump’s appointments are young enough that their influence will be entrenched in American law for decades to come!

But even though the president has been operating at a record pace, there is still a tremendous backlog of judicial vacancies.

Many of Trump’s nominations are being held up by Democrats who are trying to obstruct his presidential prerogative to appoint judges. Such is the case in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court, which governs the western

U.S. The 9th Circuit, the most liberal—and overturned appellate court in the country—has four vacancies (three of which have been vacant a year, the fourth for two years) with two more coming in 2018. The vacancies include a seat in California, as well as Arizona, Hawaii, and Oregon.

Despite the desperate need to fill those seats, Trump’s nomination to fill the Oregon seat has been stalled by politics. The highly qualified nominee, Ryan Bounds, has been awaiting confirmation for three months while Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley try to use procedural grounds to block the appointment.

In addition to the appeals court, federal district courts in California (the central and southern divisions), have seven existing vacancies, with one more coming Dec. 31. Nominees have yet to be named to those positions. We believe the make-up of the nation’s district courts is absolutely critical because they hear roughly 60,000 cases annually. In addition, nominees to the appellate court are often culled from the ranks of the district courts.

Although there are no current vacancies on the U.S. Supreme Court—thanks to Neil Gorsuch’s April confirmation—most experts anticipate that Trump may have the opportunity to appoint at least two justices with the long rumored-retirements of Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a liberal, and Anthony Kennedy, a moderate who frequently casts the tie-breaking vote.

The judicial composition of these courts is particularly crucial in California where the legislature is overwhelmingly liberal. Often the only recourse we have in protecting religious liberties is through the court system, which has systematically eroded to the left. As a result, the greatest legacy of the Trump Administration could be his efforts to remake the courts.

As we head into 2018 with a watchful eye toward promising judicial appointments, Advocates for Faith & Freedom’s attorneys are diligently working on several court cases that have significant ramifications for religious freedom:

The Scharpen Foundation v. Kamala Harris against CA AB775 
In October, Advocates’ attorneys successfully argued before a Riverside County Superior Court Judge that California’s Reproductive FACT Act infringes on constitutional free speech by compelling pregnancy care centers to engage in speech that is contrary to their spiritual beliefs. The state will likely appeal.

National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra
The Supreme Court has agreed to hear this sister case to Scharpen.  We are working closely with NIFLA’S lead counsel because of valuable research we uncovered during our preparations on the Sharpen suit. That information will likely influence the High Court.

Calvary Chapel Bible Fellowship v. Riverside County 
Our client maintains the city of Temecula violated federal law (RLUIPA) by denying the church’s permit to expand its existing facility on its own land within the wine country. Earlier this month we filed our notice of appeal to the 9th Circuit.

We have also supported several other high profile lawsuits by filing Amicus Briefs:
Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission
Colorado baker Jack Phillips is being sued for discrimination for refusing to decorate a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. The case was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on December 5. Our brief is filed on behalf of a notable constitutional law school professor.
Arlene’s Flowers v.  State of Washington 
Similarly, flower shop owner Barronelle Stutzman declined to create floral arrangements for a long-time customer’s same-sex wedding.  Stutzman lost her case in Washington. Our brief is filed on behalf of a notable constitutional law school professor.
California, et al. v. Hargan, et al.  
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is challenging to overturn President Trump’s executive order partially removingObama-era mandate that all insurance policies cover contraceptives. Trump’s order exempts employers who object on religious grounds.  Our brief is filed on behalf of American Center for Law and Justice.

When you consider your year-end or year-round charitable giving, please remember Advocates for Faith & Freedom with a tax-deductible donation.

While we remain grateful that your faithful prayers continue to encourage us through these court battles, without your financial generosity, we would not be able to continue to work on pro bono cases that uphold our Christian beliefs.

Happy New Year & God bless you,

Robert Tyler
General Counsel

Another Case Involving Compelled Speech…This Time in the U.S. Supreme Court

 Yesterday, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission–the well-known case between a same-sex couple and a Colorado bakery owner–was heard in the U. S. Supreme Court.

In her first case before the High Court, Kristen Waggoner, Senior Counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom defended the Colorado baker’s constitutional right not to be forced by the government to create a custom-designed cake in celebration of a same-sex marriage–that promoting this sentiment through his creative work violates his traditional Christian faith.

This case not only affects religious libertiesit effects all freedom of expression!

As Advocates for Faith & Freedom learned in our victory in the Scharpen case against California’s Reproductive FACT Act, the freedom NOT TO be forced to speak should be just as protected by our government as the freedom TO be allowed to speak.

“The Supreme Court has never compelled artistic expression, and doing so here would lead to less civility, diversity, and freedom for everyone, no matter their views on marriage,” said Waggoner.

And many Americans seem to agree, because while Advocates for Faith & Freedom and other religious organizations filed friend-of-the-court briefs in support of Jack Phillips’ religious liberties, several others who actually support same-sex marriage realize the danger of a government that forces speech and also filed briefs in support of Phillips’ right to decline the customer’s order.

‘My bakery, my family, my life, the work I get to do, is a gift from God and I want to honor Him in everything I do,” says Phillips.

However, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission is arguing that Phillips’ refusal to decorate the wedding cake demonstrated sex discrimination and intolerance–and since, with many of the cases before the high court these days, the decision may come down to the opinion of one moderate judge–all ears were on the questions and comments of Justice Kennedy.

Comments like this from 81-year-old Kennedy give us hope for a ruling in favor of fairness and equality:  “It seems to me that the state in its position here has been neither tolerant nor respectful of Mr. Phillips’ religious beliefs.  

“My hope is that the court will use this case as an opportunity to say, ‘We’re protecting the liberty of both sides,” said Waggoner.

We pray that the High Court heard the oral arguments for freedom of expression with clarity and validity. We also pray that the arguments were received by the justices without bias and through His wisdom.

Advocates for Faith & Freedom would like to thank all our supporters for their ongoing prayers and tax-deductible donations which allow our attorneys to continue their pro bono work defending life and religious liberty cases like Jack Phillips’ in the courts!