LSTD 510 American Public University State Doctrine of Action Stipulates Paper

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Respond to this question in regards to the below post:

  1. State Action Doctrine

The doctrine of state action is a general principle that stipulates that individual rights that the constitution guarantees apply only to public entities and not private bodies (Seidman, 2018). The Supreme Court of the United States affirmed that the general provisions of the constitutions should only apply to the actions that government bodies and agencies have perpetuated. This doctrine implies that the protection that the constitution provides through the various amendments are not enforceable against private persons unless there is a federal or state law that prohibits such conduct. The doctrine of state action generally serves two functions. First, the theory seeks to safeguard the liberties of individual people by ensuring that general constitutional principles do not curtail the autonomy of persons who are acting in a private capacity. The American nation is built on the foundation of individual liberty, and the core facet of this principle is to limit the extent of government intervention in the private life of individuals. Additionally, the doctrine seeks to ensure that there is a limit on the extent to which the federal government can interfere with the mandate of state governments. If federalism is to function smoothly in America, then the scope of the federal court’s interference with the state governments ought to be construed narrowly. Such construction operationalizes the concept of separation of powers.

While the doctrine has reasonable justifications, it poses a severe threat to the individual liberties that the United States of America ought to protect. It raises serious questions whereby one may not have a cause of action for infringements on their rights merely because such travesty occurred in private spaces. Differentiating private matters from public concerns is an arduous task, and the generalities of the doctrine of state add further complications. It is unfair for a person to be denied judicial harm when he or she has a claim against an individual, yet the same request would have sufficed if the same conduct was perpetrated by the state or its agencies (Macias, 2016). In a bid to clear up some of these issues, the courts have contemplated circumstances that can be construed as exceptions to the general rule. The first category concerns individuals or private entities that carry out public functions. Even though one is a private entity, he or it should bear the same obligations as the state if it performs activities that would conventionally fall within the scope of the government’s responsibilities. For instance, if a local government delegates the function of providing water to a private company, then that corporate body shall assume the liabilities that come with those functions. The second exception comes under the principle of entanglement. Under this provision, a private entity is deemed to bear the same responsibilities as a state if the two have gotten into a partnership or interdependent relationship that logically demands the two to be considered as jointly conducting certain activities. Masterpiece Cakeshop was thus exercising its autonomy in deciding who it would deal with and the people to whom it would not lend its services.

References

Macias, S. J. (2016). State Action Doctrine and Public Administration. In Global Encyclopedia of Public Administration, Public Policy, and Governance (pp. 1–6). Springer, Cham.

Seidman, L. M. (2018). State Action and the Constitution’s Middle Band. Mich. L. Rev., 117, 1.

News Article

One of the most famous cases concerning state action in the recent past is the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop. In this instance, a gay couple made a cake order from Masterpiece, a Christian business establishment in 2012 (“Top US court backs baker’s gay cake snub,” 2018). When the couple went to collect their cake at the entity’s business premises, the baker refused to provide them with the cake. Instead, he categorically told them that the bakery was not in the business of supplying cakes to gay couples because such unions offended their Christian beliefs. The couple was aggrieved and felt that their rights to equal treatment were violated through the application of adverse differential treatment because of their sexual orientation.

In applying the state doctrine to the issues raised by the gay couple, it is apparent that the principles are applicable. Masterpiece Cakeshop is a private business, and therefore, it does not fall under the purview of constitutional limitations. In this instance, Masterpiece was not discharging a function of public nature, nor was it working so close in tandem with the state such that it was entangled with the state agency. Under the doctrine of state action, the constitutional restrictions on infringement of rights do not apply to private persons or entities (Mathews, 2017). Therefore, the Cakeshop’s decision was, technically, correct in the eyes of the law because it was not discharging public functions.

The complainants raise legitimate concerns about the violation of their rights. In this instance, the Masterpiece Cakeshop had already made them a cake upon making their order. It was only on turning up together to collect the cake that the baker noted they were a gay couple and refused to serve them. Mr. Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, clarified that sanctioning such a sale would amount endorsing an act that was contrary to his beliefs (“Top US court backs baker’s gay cake snub,” 2018). To add insult to injury, Mr. Phillips offered them other products like biscuits and birthday cakes. The whole situation reeks of homophobia and discrimination based on one’s sexual orientation. The fourteenth amendment of the constitution grants equal rights to all persons, and if this provision was to be construed holistically, then gay people are no exception. The only reason for the baker’s refusal to sell them a cake was their gay relationship, and it is indisputable that the business would have happily sold the cake to a heterosexual couple. The case is very problematic because it lays bare the soft underbelly of the doctrine of state action. It is inhumane and disparaging for a person to be denied service in commercial establishment merely because he or she is gay or transgender. There is a significant disconnect in how the state implements vertical rights vis-à-vis horizontal ones. Although the doctrine of state action generally upholds individual liberty and autonomy, it attracts severe criticisms in instances where there is fierce competition between constitutional freedoms and individual rights. It poses serious challenges where state inaction leaves persons whose rights are infringed without any legal recourse. It is an oxymoron to protect the right of an infringer at the expense of his or her victim. The phenomenon implies less protection of individuals.

References

Mathews, J. (2017). State Action Doctrine and the Logic of Constitutional Containment (SSRN Scholarly Paper ID 2956414). Social Science Research Network. https://papers.ssrn.com/abstract=2956414

Top US court backs baker’s gay cake snub. (2018, June 4). BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-44361162

Prof. Angela

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