CV NEWS FEED // Vermont Associate Supreme Court Justice Beth Robinson once represented a client who tried to force a devout Catholic couple who owned a printing company to produce materials for a pro-abortion group.
The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on Robinson, who President Biden nominated for the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.
In the 1994 case Paquette v. Regal Art Press, then-lawyer Beth Robinson represented Linda Paquette, a pro-abortion activist. Paquette sued Malcolm and Susan Baker of Regal Art Press after the couple declined to print custom materials for Vermont Catholics for Free Choice, a pro-abortion advocacy organization of which Paquette was a member.
The Bakers, both devout Catholics, believed that printing abortion advocacy materials would violate their religious beliefs, and told Paquette that they did not believe Catholics could be pro-choice.
In response, Paquette filed a complaint against the Bakers with the Vermont Human Rights Commission, and also sued the couple. A Vermont superior court ruled against Paquette and stated that forcing the Bakers to print the pro-abortion group’s membership cards would violate their First Amendment rights.
Robinson, however, took Paquette’s case to the Vermont Supreme Court.
Robinson wrote a brief which argued that Regal Art Press discriminated against Paquette because of her “creed.” (Paquette was a self-proclaimed Catholic, and Robinson tried to make the case that her client’s pro-abortion advocacy was part of her faith.)
The brief also argued that the the Baker’s refusal to print pro-abortion materials was “invidious,” “pernicious,” and a form of discrimination that even the Religious Freedom Restoration Act should not protect.
Senator Ted Cruz, R-TX, drew attention to the case at Robinson’s hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. “I am concerned about your record both as an advocate and as a justice,” said Cruz, “that it demonstrates a marked hostility toward religious liberty.”
“When you were in private practice, you wrote a brief in favor of forcing the Baker family, a Catholic family that owned a print shop, to print membership cards for a pro-abortion activist group,” Cruz continued:
The Baker family believed that was in violation of their deeply-held religious convictions. In your brief you used strong and even incendiary language to describe the Baker family’s religious convictions. Referring to their views that they did not wish to actively advocate for and promote abortion, you referred to those religious views as “invidious” and “pernicious.”
“As you know, the very first clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution protects religious liberty,” Cruz said. “Given that history of litigating and attacking an exercise of religious liberty, how might a litigant in the Second Circuit have any confidence that as a judge you would actually follow the law and in particular honor the religious liberty protections of the Constitution?”
Robinson responded: “The claim by my client was that she had been subject to discrimination on the basis of her religious conviction.” Robinson explained that Paquette’s “contention was that the Bakers said ‘we won’t print these cards because we don’t think Catholics can be for choice,’” so she “brought a claim for discrimination on the basis of creed….”
Robinson said she acknowledged “that if the facts showed that the Bakers declined to print the placcard because of their opposition to abortion rather than their belief that her strain of Catholic faith was wrong, then she woudn’t have a claim.”
Cruz countered that “if anything, that makes it worse,” and pointed out that Robinson was trying to get the Vermont Supreme Court to rule that the Baker’s weren’t allowed to have their own understanding of what the Catholic Church teaches.
Cruz later confronted Robinson with a quotation from a speech she gave at a marriage law symposium. “Long after every state in this country allows same-sex couples to marry,” she had said,
there will still be churches that decline to recognize or celebrate same-sex marriage, and we’re not suggesting it should be otherwise. Well, maybe it should be otherwise. But that’s not our mission.
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-MO, also questioned Robinson about the Paquette v. Regal Art Press case. “I’m troubled by your history of compelling individuals to express pro-abortion viewpoints against their religious convictions,” said Hawley:
You represented [a client] in 1994 who demanded that two devout Catholics print custom membership cards for an organization that advocated in favor of abortions. When they declined to do so citing the teachings of their church, you and your client filed a complaint with the Vermont Human Rights Commission and then a lawsuit….
Hawley also confronted Robinson with her past claim that the Baker’s sincerely held religious beliefs were “pernicious” and “akin to racial discrimination.”
Robinson responded, again, that “we conceded that if the printers had declined to print the materials on account of their opposition to abortion, that there was no basis in law to pursue our claim.”
“The threshold issue in the case is whether that in fact was the facts,” said Robinson:
My client was a Catholic. She was there to get fliers for Vermont Catholics for Choice printed. She was deeply offended by the suggestion that she wasn’t a true Catholic and that was the reason why the printer wouldn’t print the materials.
“Well, I can understand the issue if the Government had told your client that she wasn’t a true Catholic or true Hindu or true whatever, given our First Amendment,” Hawley said. “But we’re talking here about a suit against two private individuals … who on the basis of their religious viewpoint said that they couldn’t print these cards.”
“And you and your client attempted to leverage the machinery of the state … to compel these two private individuals to speak,” Hawley went on, and pointed out that, since Robinson’s case in the 1990’s, the Supreme Court has ruled against compelled speech,’ specifically in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case.
“In light of Masterpiece Cakeshop, do you acknowledge today that your client would not have the right to compel other individuals to speak in a way that she favors?” Hawley asked. Would she “stand by” her language from the brief she wrote in the Paquette case, including calling the Catholic printers’ refusal to print the pro-abortion materials “invideous” and “pernicious” and “akin to racial discrimination?” Or, asked Hawley, did Robinson now regret “any of that rhetoric?”
Robinson replied that she did not recall all of the rhetoric she used and has not read her brief “in 30 years.”
“I’ve got profound, profound concerns, Justice Robinson, about your position here,” Hawley concluded. “And I have to tell you that the passage of time doesn’t do anything to alleviate my concerns.”
CatholicVote President Brian Burch was disturbed by what he heard in the above exchanges. “How does a nominee like this ever get sent to the Senate?” he asked. “Surely the Biden administration knew of this record and considered her qualified. The decision is telling.”
“The anti-Catholic animus of this administration grows by the day. When will Catholics wake up?” Burch said. “Senate must send a clear message that nominees with a record of anti-Catholic hate cannot be confirmed.”
Readers can watch Sen. Cruz’s exchange with Justice Robinson below.