Consumer Confidential: Conservatives are all for businesses calling the shots — except when it's about Trump

David Lazarus, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

I spoke with a number of experts in constitutional and consumer law. They all said that, legal minutiae notwithstanding, the Colorado baker and Twitter cases largely hinge on the same philosophical principle.

"When it comes to private businesses, the general rule is the business can determine the customers it will serve," said Richard Alderman, director of the Consumer Law Center at the University of Houston.

"This is the rule that would apply to social media denying certain individuals the right to use their platform," he told me.

Things are more complicated, however, when protected classes of people are involved.

"If there is an anti-discrimination law, that will usually trump the rights of the business," Alderman said. "For example, a business cannot establish a rule that would result in it not having to sell to African Americans, Jews or women."

Protected classes include cases involving race, age, gender and ancestry. Being president isn't a protected class, regardless of how often one tweets about "presidential harassment."


"There is no law prohibiting discriminating against presidents," said Frederick Schauer, a law professor at the University of Virginia.

Jeff Sovern, a law professor at St. John's University in New York, said Twitter and other social media sites are on relatively solid ground in shutting their digital doors to some users.

"Twitter says that it banned Trump because of the risk of further incitement of violence," he observed. "As far as I know, no state law bars discrimination against people who incite violence. In terms of the law, it's as simple as that."

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in 2018 in favor of the Colorado baker, Jack Phillips, deciding that he was treated unfairly because of his religious beliefs by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission.


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