Kristen K. Waggoner
Kristen Kellie Behrends
1972 (age 48–49)
|Employer||Alliance Defending Freedom|
Kristen K. Waggoner (born 1972) is an American constitutional lawyer. She was the lead counsel in a notable First Amendment case at the United States Supreme Court, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. In the lawsuit, Waggoner represented Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips. She currently serves as General Counsel of the Christian legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).
Early life and education
Waggoner was born in 1972 in Longview, Washington, which is about an hour outside of Portland. Her father is Clint Behrends, a school superintendent and a licensed minister in the Assemblies of God denomination. Her mother, Lavonne Behrends, is a stay-at-home mom. Lavonne also worked part-time in the accounting industry. Waggoner is the eldest of four children.
For primary and secondary education Waggoner attended Christian schools. Her father was the principal during her 1st through 12th grades. In an interview with The Daily Signal, Waggoner relates the life changing story of how she became motivated to become an attorney. When she was 13 she attended a summer camp. While at the camp she prayed and "saw clearly that defending ministries and religious freedom should be her path." She said, "That’s what I thought God was impressing on me to do, and it matched with my skill set." In high school she played volleyball and basketball. She graduated high school as valedictorian.
She attended Northwest University on a drama scholarship. Northwest is also a Christian school and is affiliated with Assemblies of God. She excelled in debate and public speaking, and continued playing volleyball. After graduating magna cum laude from Northwest, she attended Regent University School of Law, which is also a Christian college. At Regent she won "best oralist" at the Whittier Moot Court Competition, a national contest. In 1997 she graduated cum laude. As a recent law school graduate she sought clerking opportunities. She landed a law clerk position with Washington State Supreme Court Justice Richard B. Sanders and afterward interned with U.S. Representative Linda Smith.
With Sanders encouragement, Waggoner applied for a position at Seattle law firm Ellis, Li & McKinstry (ELM), and was hired in 1998. ELM specializes in constitutional law and many of its clients are religious organizations. According to partner Keith Kemper, it's "perhaps the nation’s largest private law firm made up of Christian attorneys." Waggoner was elevated to partner in 2004.
Waggoner's most important case while at ELM was the Arlene's Flowers Lawsuit. In 2013 florist Barronelle Stutzman declined to provide flowers for a same sex wedding based on her deeply held Christian beliefs. Same sex marriage was legalized in Washington in 2012. The case went all the way to the Washington State Supreme Court where Waggoner argued the case based on First Amendment grounds. The court decided against Sturzman to which Waggoner responded:
If the government can ruin Barronelle for peacefully living and working according to her faith, it can punish anyone else for expressing their beliefs. The government shouldn’t have the power to force a 72-year-old grandmother to surrender her freedom in order to run her family business. Anyone who supports the First Amendment rights that the U.S. Constitution guarantees to all of us should stand with Barronelle.
The case has been submitted to the United States Supreme Court for review.
Waggoner joined ADF in 2013 and moved to the firm's Scottsdale headquarters in 2014. Two cases--Arlene's Flowers and United States v. Windsor—provided the impetus to join the firm. She said: "The right of conscience is critical to the existence of the country and is the first freedom that our other civil liberties are directly connected with. I wanted to be a part of that—that fight to preserve it for my children and my grandchildren." In her capacity as General Counsel Waggoner's duties include oversight of the U.S. Legal Division and Communications, which includes over 100 attorneys and staff who engage in litigation, public advocacy, and legislative support, as well as oversight of a nationwide network of 3,214 allied lawyers. During her tenure ADF has been victorious as lead counsel in nine Supreme Court cases.
Michael Farris, CEO of ADF, said this about selecting Waggoner to argue the high-profile case Masterpiece Cakeshop: "She is exceedingly bright, winsome, the best communicator I’ve ever met in my life." The case arose from a dispute between Jack Phillips, a baker, and a gay couple wherein Phillips refused to bake a cake for their same-sex marriage ceremony due to his deeply held religious beliefs. Constitutional questions arising from the potentially precedent-setting case concerned the First Amendment rights of free speech and free exercise of religion. The Court took oral arguments on December 5, 2017. Regarding her presentation, David A. French of National Review wrote: "[Waggoner] strongly and clearly made the most vital point — the issue was the artistic message, not the identity of the customer." In 2018 Phillips prevailed in a 7-2 ruling.
Waggoner is married to fellow attorney Benjamin Waggoner, who also graduated from Regent Law School in 1997. The couple has three children. The faith tradition to which she belongs is Protestant. One of her favorite places is Disneyland, owing to fond childhood memories. Her office is adorned with Disney memorabilia and her phone ringtone is set to "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah."
- "Kristen K. Waggoner". adflegal.org. Alliance Defending Freedom. Retrieved July 26, 2021.
- McIntyre, Ken (December 4, 2014). "Meet the Lawyer Who'll Argue at Supreme Court for Christian Baker's Right to Free Speech". The Daily Signal. Retrieved August 23, 2019.
- Contrera, Jessica (July 4, 2018). "Inside the Christian legal powerhouse that keeps winning at the Supreme Court". Washington Post. Retrieved August 23, 2019.
- Tubbs, Brett Wilson (May 12, 2016). "Kristen Waggoner Selected for Regent University's Alumnus of the Year Award". Regent University School of Law. Retrieved August 23, 2019.
- Kraemer, Kristen M. (July 17, 2017). "Richland floral shop owner wants US Supreme Court to review ruling". Union Bulletin. Retrieved August 23, 2019.
- "Kristen K. Waggoner Biography". Alliance Defending Freedom. Retrieved August 23, 2019.
- Savage, David (June 26, 2017). "Supreme Court will hear case of Colorado baker who refused to make wedding cake for same-sex couple". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 23, 2019.
- Howe, Amy (September 11, 2017). "Wedding cakes v. religious beliefs?: In Plain English". SCOTUSblog. Retrieved August 23, 2019.
- French, David (December 5, 2017). "Four Promising Takeaways from the Masterpiece Cakeshop Oral Argument". National Review. Retrieved August 23, 2019.
- Pryts, Monica (April 5, 2019). "Lawyer says defending religious freedom is a calling from God". The Herald. Retrieved August 23, 2019.