A federal judge appointed by President Donald Trump ruled Friday that a Christian photographer in Louisville can turn away same-sex couples despite the city’s ordinance prohibiting LGBT discrimination.
U.S. District Judge Justin Reed Walker issued an injunction blocking the city from enforcing its Fairness Ordinance against Chelsey Walker, who claims she can only photograph weddings between a man and a woman due to her religious beliefs.
“America is wide enough for those who applaud same-sex marriage and those who refuse to,” Judge Walker wrote in a 27-page opinion, according to the Courier Journal. “The Constitution does not require a choice between gay rights and freedom of speech. It demands both.
“Just as gay and lesbian Americans ‘cannot be treated as social outcasts or as inferior in dignity and worth,'” Walker wrote, quoting the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges, “neither can Americans ‘with a deep faith that requires them to do things passing legislative majorities might find unseemly or uncouth.'”
The judge added that “her photography is art” and “art is speech,” saying the government can’t compel speech when it violates someone’s religious beliefs. Although photography is wordless, he wrote, “so too is refusing to salute the flag or marching in a parade, both of which the Supreme Court has said are protected forms of speech.”
More from the Courier Journal: The ACLU said in a brief that if Nelson could refuse service to same-sex couples on First Amendment grounds, another photographer could turn away interracial or interfaith couples, or African American or Muslim couples. “There is no question that Louisville has the authority to prohibit businesses that choose to operate within its boundaries from discriminating in their sales of goods and services to the public,” it said. The city also said it had never taken or threatened enforcement action against Nelson.
Trump first nominated Walker, a protégé of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, to serve as a judge for the Western District of Kentucky last year. The Senate confirmed Walker despite the American Bar Association rating him “not qualified,” citing his lack of “any significant trial experience.”
Walker, 37, once clerked for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. During Kavanaugh’s controversial confirmation process, Walker gave more than 70 TV interviews defending his former boss against sexual assault allegations leveled by Christine Blasey-Ford.
Earlier this year, Trump rewarded Walker by nominating him to serve on the powerful U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The Senate confirmed him to that position in June.
Lambda Legal, the LGBT civil rights group, was among the groups that opposed Walker’s confirmation.
“Judge Walker is just the latest in a long line of judicial nominees championed by right wing organizations like the Federalist Society for their zealous opposition to the Affordable Care Act, as well as other extremist views, jeopardizing the lives of LGBT people and others who need access to fair and impartial courts,” Lambda Legal wrote.