Donald Trump Jr. is more than a little confused.
The eldest presidential son logged onto Twitter this morning in order to celebrate the ruling issued by the Supreme Court in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. To be clear, the 7-2 ruling was an obvious victory for the anti-gay marriage baker–but that only begins to tell the story. So, of course, that’s where Trump Jr. ends it.
Under the prismatic, nuance-dashing scheme of our modern politics, the baker’s victory is being interpreted as a shared win for both the expressly anti-gay conservative movement and the nominally gay-ambivalent Trump administration–to the extent they’re actually severable in any meaningful sense. The younger Trump tweeted:
I am reading about a 7 – 2 vote. Pretty sure that’s not narrowly… At least 2 dem leaning justices must have agreed.
Appended to Trump’s tweet was another tweet, from the Associated Press, with the following headline, “BREAKING: Supreme Court rules narrowly for Colorado baker who wouldn’t make same-sex wedding cake.” Let’s work our way backwards here.
Yes, at least two Dem-appointed justices agreed with the court’s decision. Typically liberal Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan joined with the conservative majority to rule in favor of the baker. Kagan’s concurrence, in particular, was a surprise to most observers–and a let-down to many in the LGBTQ community.
(Not everyone was particularly surprised. The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald predicted Kagan’s eventual role on the Supreme Court as a Dem-appointed centrist and pointed this out in his take on the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision, taking the opportunity to also note that Kagan often sides with the conservative majority.)
A full analysis of the decision, focusing on Kagan’s somewhat shocking role, was explored by Law&Crime‘s Ronn Blitzer in an earlier piece here.
And, yes, a 7-justice majority is not narrow in the sense that a 5-4 decision might be considered narrow. But that’s not the sense that anyone remarking on the case is using when discussing Monday’s decision.
When describing the numerical votes in SCOTUS decisions, the version of the word “narrow” being used is Merriam-Webster’s fourth definition:
Definition of narrow…4 a : barely sufficient : close won by a narrow margin
This version of “narrow” is akin to saying a certain victory was “razor thin,” that it went “down-to-the-wire,” or stayed “tight” until the end. Here, the word “narrow” is simply synonymous with the word “close.” For example, “Whew, that was close. If his father hadn’t been elected president, Donald Trump Jr. might still be happily married.”
Therefore, yeah. A 7-2 Supreme Court decision wouldn’t properly be described as close–if anyone was actually talking about the way numbers work. But, again, that’s not what headlines and analyses describing Masterpiece Cakeshop are talking about at all.
Rather, the version of the word “narrow” being used by the media to describe Monday’s decision is that provided for by Merriam-Webster’s second definition:
Definition of narrow…2: limited in size or scope a narrow interpretation
This version of “narrow” is the same as saying a certain victory was “distinctly or certainly limited.” That the decision was “bounded” by the precise question put before the court or “expressly finite” in terms of precedent. Another way to put it is, “Masterpiece Cakeshop is a highly qualified decision that was decided on very narrow legal grounds.”
Without rehashing the entirety of the case and how it was decided, the basic issue in Masterpiece Cakeshop was thought to implicate the fundamental rights of LGBTQ individuals in relation to private entities that discriminate against them. Those constitutional questions were mostly ignored by the Supreme Court.
Instead, the case was transmogrified into an exploration of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause jurisprudence because, the Supreme Court determined, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission failed to exhibit “religious neutrality” when punishing the anti-gay marriage baker in the first place. In other words, the Supreme Court punted on the actual issue brought before it and used a narrow side issue to find common ground.
In sum, the “narrow” decision here has everything to do with Supreme Court jurisprudence and nothing to do with how headline writers frame two numbers sitting next to one another in print. As for President Trump’s oldest son, there’s at least one more version of “narrow” he should be familiar with. This one, care of Merriam-Webster’s third definition:
Definition of narrow…3 a : illiberal…in views or disposition : prejudiced
Update: Seems young Mr. Trump has some company in being totally off-base here. Tom Bevan, co-founder and president of RealClearPolitics–who, arguably, should know better–tweeted a version of this misunderstanding Monday morning, as well.
Dear AP: 5-4 is "narrowly." 7-2 is closer to a "rout." https://t.co/tHmTJdKcUb
— Tom Bevan (@TomBevanRCP) June 4, 2018
Image via Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.