Blog Ipsa Loquitur

Mari Uyehara, writing in GQ on the breathtaking spinelessness of a Washington Post editorial, and more broadly on why restaurants everywhere should blacklist members of the Trump Administration after Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked to leave the Red Hen:

[Red Hen Owner Stephanie] Wilkinson’s recognition of the costs of a principled stance were soon realized. Sanders used her official government Twitter account, instead of her personal one, to criticize the small private business—an ethics violation—and, later in a press conference, described the episode of being politely asked to leave the restaurant as “harm.” Trump jumped in, tweeting that the restaurant was “filthy” and claimed that he “always had a rule, if a restaurant is dirty on the outside, it is dirty on the inside!” Hordes of Trump followers targeted a different restaurant, Red Hen in DC, for days of harassment, including death threats and egging.

The Washington establishment piled on the small restaurant and its seven-person staff, with an array of misguided commentary. In a now-deleted tweet, Politico’s Jake Sherman, last seen obsequiously defending the administration by decrying Michelle Wolf’s stand-up as “mean,” sided with the president, tweeting “kind of agree on the outside/inside dirtiness deal.” David Axelrod, CNN commentator and former Obama staffer, sarcastically noted: “Oh yes. Let’s get REALLY tough and deprive the Trumpies Chanterelle & Scape Risotto! That will change EVERYTHING!” Ari Fleischer, former press secretary for George W. Bush, snickered: “I guess we’re heading into an America with Democrat-only restaurants, which will lead to Republican-only restaurants.” None, mind you, peeped up when Vice President Joe Biden was turned away by a Virginia cookie shop in 2012.

I’m going to skate right on by the old white guys dying to prove how principled they are by carrying water for the right-wing’s half of the outrage-industrial complex here. I hear Vichy is lovely this time of year.

Uyehara seems equally irritated by the ridicule lobbed at people standing up for their principles here, and reserves special (and well-deserved) outrage for the morning talk show talking head who decried the Red Hen for violating the spirit of the Civil Rights Act. Now, I’m tempted to go for the easy joke here: if a bake shop in Colorado gets to refuse service to folks based on their marital partners, it seems that discrimination on the basis of employer should be fair game as well.

But the easy joke is too easy and too glib for a law blog. First, the Colorado baker won his court case because his state’s civil rights commission was unconstitutionally biased against his religious views, not because the Supreme Court thinks cake-based discrimination against gay people is permissible. The Constitution is 100% silent on cake-based discrimination, so we’re on our own here. No, the Colorado case was a weird decision based on weird facts, and now there’s a growing body of law allowing businesses to use the First Amendment’s freedom of religion clause as both shield and sword. Great. Fine. Whatever.

Second, take a step back and let’s talk about what discrimination actually means. Uyehara touched on this, but discrimination is the unfair treatment of a class of people who share some immutable characteristic. The Fifteenth Amendment recognizes three characteristics of people upon which it’s illegal to discriminate: race, color, and previous condition of servitude. Congress has added a few more to that list, and now it looks something like this:

  1. Race
  2. Color
  3. Gender
  4. Religion
  5. National Origin
  6. Age
  7. Disability
  8. Genetic Information

When discrimination is alleged, courts take a look, and apply various levels of scrutiny to the defendant’s actions. You will notice that “works for the federal government” is not on that list, otherwise VP Biden could have sued his way into that cookie shop.