By Evan Mahon
On January 26, 2023, over 100 Colorado Law students, staff, and faculty members flooded a classroom in the Wolf Law building to discuss one of the most prominent topics in today’s legal world: LGBTQ+ rights. The event was co-sponsored by OUTlaw and the Byron R. White Center for American Constitutional Law.
The conversation centered around Professor Helen Norton, who serves as special counsel as part of the Colorado Attorney General’s team in 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis. Professor Norton is a University Distinguished Professor and the Rothgerber Chair in Constitutional Law. Her scholarly and teaching interests include constitutional law and civil rights law. Professor Scott Skinner-Thompson and 2L Evan Mahon moderated the discussion and student Q&A. Professor Skinner-Thompson is an Associate Professor whose research and teaching interests center around constitutional law, civil rights, and privacy law, with a particular focus on LGBTQ+ and HIV issues. Mahon currently serves as President of the LGBTQ+ student group, OUTlaw.
303 Creative is a case centered around a Colorado-based website design company claiming that state antidiscrimination law would violate its free speech rights if it were required to make wedding websites for same-sex marriages if it makes wedding websites for opposite-sex marriages. The website designer challenged Colorado anti-discrimination state laws which prevent public businesses from discriminating against gay people, as well as making statements in that same realm. The State of Colorado argued for the constitutionality of the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act and prevailed at both the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado and the Tenth Circuit. Oral arguments were held at the U.S. Supreme Court on December 5, 2022 with a decision expected around mid-June 2023.
Over 100 individuals took part in the discussion with Professor Norton, Professor Scott Skinner-Thompson, and Mahon about the far-reaching implications of a ruling in favor of the website designer. When asked about what impact this decision could have on anti-discrimination laws, Professor Norton replied, “Well, the title of this event, LGBTQ Rights at the Supreme Court, is almost too narrow. The outer limits of this decision are unknown. It can potentially impact other matters covered under anti-discrimination laws.” In response to the attendants’ great interest, Professor Norton also shared about her experience litigating and sitting at the counsel table in the highest court in the United States.
During the Q&A, students asked how this decision intersects with privacy laws, about SCOTUS precedent established prior to the case, the Colorado law in question, and the implications of this decision on a local and national level.
When asked about the importance of events such as these, Mahon responded that,
“It is through educating one another about crucial social issues and finding unity in fighting these fights that we can build community and camaraderie. We must be conscious of the footprints we leave behind, as well as the steps that have been paved by those before us.”
OUTlaw provides professional, social, and academic support for LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) law students and their straight/cisgender allies.
The work of the Byron R. White Center is premised on the belief that an informed and engaged community is essential to Constitutional democracy. The mission of the Byron R. White Center is to: support excellence in Constitutional legal scholarship; offer opportunities for Colorado Law students to promote justice; and expand public knowledge and informed discussion about the Constitution. The Byron R. White Center is ran under the guidance of Professor Suzette Malveaux (Moses Lasky Professor of Law and Director of the Byron R. White Center for the Study of American Constitutional Law at the University of Colorado Law School)