Inside Alliance Defending Freedom, the Christian Legal Powerhouse that Keeps Winning at the Supreme Court

Kristen Waggoner
Kristen Waggoner

Two days before the announcement of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s retirement, a woman who stood to gain from it was on the steps of the Supreme Court once again. Kristen Waggoner’s blond bob was perfectly styled with humidity-fighting paste she’d slicked onto it that morning at the Trump hotel. Her 5-foot frame was heightened by a pair of nude pumps, despite a months-old ankle fracture in need of surgery. On her wrist was a silver bracelet she’d worn nonstop since Dec. 5, 2017, the day she marched up these iconic steps, stood before the justices and argued that a Christian baker could legally refuse to create a cake for a gay couple’s wedding.

Her job was to be the legal mind and public face of Alliance Defending Freedom., an Arizona-based Christian conservative legal nonprofit better known as ADF. Though far from a household name, the results of ADF’s work are well known. Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission was just one of ADF’s cases at the Supreme Court this term. The organization has had nine successful cases before the court in the past seven years, including Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which allowed corporations to opt out of covering contraceptives based on religious beliefs. And it was ADF that created model legislation for “bathroom bills,” which bar students from using restrooms that don’t correlate to their sex at birth.

Opponents say ADF is seeking to enshrine discrimination into law. But to its supporters, ADF is fighting for the right of Christians to openly express their faith — and winning.

Or as ADF’s CEO, Michael Farris, put it: “We would say the combination of hard work and God’s blessing appears to be paying off.”

With Donald Trump in the White House, a savvy media strategy boosting donations and a new Supreme Court justice on the way, ADF is poised to become more influential than ever.

But first, Waggoner was about to find out whether the organization had a chance of returning to the court for another high-profile battle. ADF’s win in Masterpiece was considered to be a narrow ruling. The justices avoided the case’s central question — whether the business owner had the right to decline to make a creation for a same-sex wedding — but acknowledged it would have to be answered someday, in some future case.

If Waggoner has her way, that day will come soon, and the case will be one of hers. ADF has four cases pending in the lower courts regarding Christian business owners who will serve gay people but won’t make custom creations for same-sex weddings. On this morning in late June, the court was going to decide the fate of one of them: Barronelle Stutzman, a florist from Washington state.

Lower courts had ruled unanimously against her. Because the justices had just ruled in Masterpiece, they were unlikely to take her case immediately. Waggoner knew they could decline to touch it altogether. Or they could order the Washington courts to give Stutzman a do-over — giving ADF a clear path back to the Supreme Court.

Waggoner kept her eyes on her phone, where the SCOTUSblog website was posting minute-by-minute updates about what was happening inside the court. News cameras waited for her reaction. Her silver bracelet dangled on her wrist. It was engraved with a line from the Bible’s Book of Esther: “For such a time as this.” Nine Supreme Court cases in seven years and ADF had won them all. She was hoping it was such a time that God would grant them another.

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SOURCE: Jessica Contrera
The Washington Post