Author: Brian K. Miller

Cakeshop Conflicts: Let Them Eat Rights

In her essential 1993 book Rights Talk, Mary Ann Glendon worried that the language of legal rights was displacing the pleasantries of everyday social interactions. Glendon wrote that “the highly colored language of advocacy flows out to the larger society through the lips of orators, statesmen, and flamboyant courtroom performers.” Since the language of legal rights is often absolutist, Glendon predicted that its adoption for everyday use increases “the likelihood of conflict and inhibits the sort of dialogue that is increasingly necessary in a pluralist society.” Glendon wasn’t the first to observe this phenomenon. In his journeys through the United States, Tocqueville wrote that the discourse of lawyers seems to “infiltrate through society right down to the lowest rank.” A quick glance at this year’s Supreme Court docket – and the accompanying legal and cultural commentary – makes it hard to dispute Glendon’s and Tocqueville’s observations. Exhibit A is Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The case involves a baker who refused to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding. A conflict between customer …