The Supreme Court ruled Monday that the key federal law prohibiting discrimination in the workplace protects gay, lesbian or transgender employees from being disciplined or fired based on their sexual orientation.
Two of the court’s Republican appointees, Neil Gorsuch and John Roberts, joined the court’s Democratic appointees to deliver the surprising, 6-3 victory to LGBT advocates.
Writing for the court’s majority, Gorsuch accepted arguments that the Civil Rights Act of 1964’s prohibition on sex discrimination in employment also effectively banned bias based on sexual orientation or gender identity, even though few if any members of Congress thought they were doing that at the time.
"Those who adopted the Civil Rights Act might not have anticipated their work would lead to this particular result. Likely, they weren’t thinking about many of the Act’s consequences that have become apparent over the years, including its prohibition against discrimination on the basis of motherhood or its ban on the sexual harassment of male employees," Gorsuch wrote.
"But the limits of the drafters’ imagination supply no reason to ignore the law’s demands," he continued. "When the express terms of a statute give us one answer and extratextual considerations suggest another, it’s no contest. Only the written word is the law, and all persons are entitled to its benefit."
Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Brett Kavanaugh dissented from the ruling.
LGBT activists were thought to face an uphill battle at the high court because Congress has spent more than four decades considering, but failing to pass, measures intended to expand the coverage of the 1964 law by explicitly adding sexual orientation to the list of protected traits.
Such legislation passed the Democrat-controlled House in 2007 and again last year and was approved by the Democrat-controlled Senate in 2013, with the latter two efforts also explicitly aimed outlawing workplace discrimination against transgender people. The bills never cleared both chambers in the same Congress.
That Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion was viewed as a major coup by gay rights advocates. They hoped his professed devotion to “textualism” — a literal approach to reading Congressional enactments — would persuade him to embrace a reading that LGBT discrimination is sex discrimination because it involves treating someone differently at least in part due to gender.
Winning Roberts over to the majority is also notable, since he joined the rest of the court’s conservatives in 2015 in vocal dissent from the court’s landmark ruling finding a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.
Because the ruling Monday is a matter of statutory interpretation, it is not an all-out guarantee of workplace protections for LGBT people in the future. But as a practical political matter, it seems highly unlikely Congress would reach a consensus to repeal those rights anytime soon.
The U.S. Supreme Court dealt a blow to the Trump administration’s immigration policies, letting stand a California sanctuary law that restricts local police from helping federal authorities round up and deport people who are in the country illegally.
The justices left intact a federal appeals court decision that upheld the central part of the 2017 California law. The administration argued in its unsuccessful appeal that the measure undermines deportation efforts, violating federal immigration law and the Constitution.
Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito said they would have granted review.
The Supreme Court on Monday said it will not hear appeals of a slew of cases involving gun laws, dealing a blow to Second Amendment activists who seek to expand the rights of gun owners.
In an order released Monday morning, the court denied petitions for appeals of 10 cases.
The action comes just weeks after the justices declined to issue a substantive opinion in its first Second Amendment case in nearly a decade. In that case, over a since-repealed New York City handgun regulation, the court said the controversy was no longer active because the measure had been amended by the city.
But several of the court’s conservatives, Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas, wrote that they would still have sided with the gun owners challenging the law.
Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who sided with the majority in the case, urged his colleagues to take another Second Amendment case “soon.”
The Supreme Court said on Monday that it will not hear cases regarding a doctrine that shields police and other public officials from lawsuits for conduct that does not involve a “clearly established” violation of the law.
The announcement, made in an order, comes as the nation reels from weeks of protests against police violence spurred by the brutal arrest of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month that ended with his death in police custody. The four officers involved in the arrest are now facing charges.
The doctrine, qualified immunity, has come under increasing scrutiny by critics who say it gives blanket protection to law enforcement officers even when they violate civil rights. The burden imposed by qualified immunity on victims of police violence is exacerbated by the fact that prosecutors rarely charge officers for excessive force violations, often leaving civil lawsuits as the only remaining avenue.
The doctrine was established by the Supreme Court in 1982 and has been expanded over time. Increasingly, the top court has required victims to cite a case with precisely the same detailed facts as their own in order to prove that the action against them was a “clearly established” violation of the law.
Justices Clarence Thomas, one of the court’s most ardent conservatives, and Sonia Sotomayor, a liberal, have both criticized qualified immunity on separate grounds.
Thomas has argued that qualified immunity is essentially a creation of the justices — substituting “our own policy preferences” for that of Congress. Sotomayor has written that qualified immunity “tells officers that they can shoot first and think later, and it tells the public that palpably unreasonable conduct will go unpunished.”
In a dissent from the court’s decision not to hear one of the qualified immunity cases it was considering, Thomas reiterated his opposition to the doctrine.
“There likely is no basis for the objective inquiry into clearly established law that our modern cases prescribe,” Thomas wrote. “Leading treatises from the second half of the 19th century and case law until the 1980s contain no support for this ‘clearly established law’ test.”
A very, very significant victory for gay, lesbian, and transgender people at Supreme Court. This one was a remote dream for a long time. There aren't many similar victories. I can practically cite them all by name and year.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the Trump administration cannot carry out its plan to shut down the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which has allowed nearly 800,000 young people, known as "Dreamers," to avoid deportation and remain in the U.S.
The decision is a big legal defeat for President Donald Trump on the issue of immigration, which has been a major focus of his domestic agenda.
The decision authored mostly by Chief Justice John Roberts said the government failed to give an adequate justification for ending the federal program. The administration could try again to shut it down by offering a more detailed explanation for its action, but the White House might not want to end such a popular program in the heat of a presidential campaign.
Roberts was joined in the majority by liberal Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor.
"We conclude that the acting secretary did violate the [Administrative Procedure Act]," and that the decision to rescind DACA "must be vacated," Roberts wrote.
Conservative Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh filed opinions that concurred with parts of the majority and with parts of the dissent.
The LGBT case strikes me as a very fragile victory. It was not based on constitutional rights but on an interpretation of the meaning of the word “sex” in the Civil Rights Act. A future R congress and R President could amend the statute to clarify the definition to its liking.
-------------------------------- Be calm, be brave, it'll be okay.
The U.S. Supreme Court handed the Trump administration a major victory Thursday, ruling that those who enter the United States seeking asylum from persecution elsewhere have no right to a federal court hearing.
The decision, on a 7-to-2 vote, allows the Trump administration to fast-track the deportation of thousands of immigrants who have claimed to be escaping from persecution and torture in their home countries.
That was the case of Vijayakumar Thuraissigiam, a Sri Lankan farmer who sought asylum, telling immigration officials that he had been abducted from his fields, blindfolded by men in a van, interrogated and beaten so badly with wooden sticks that he spent 11 days in the hospital.
Thuraissigiam is Tamil, an ethnic minority that has long been persecuted by the majority Sinhalese government in Sri Lanka. After the beating, he traveled for seven months to get to Mexico, where he crossed the border into the U.S., was arrested and asked for political asylum.
"While aliens who have established connections in this country have due process rights in deportation proceedings, the court long ago held that Congress is entitled to set the conditions for an alien's lawful entry into this country," Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote the majority opinion, said.
He was joined in the majority by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissented.
A narrowly divided Supreme Court struck down state restrictions on abortion clinics Monday for the second time in four years, signaling that its conservative shift under President Donald Trump has not eliminated a deep split over abortion rights.
The court ruled 5-4 that a Louisiana law requiring doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals would unduly burden women. Chief Justice John Roberts joined the four liberal justices in the result.
The court reached the same conclusion in 2016 regarding a Texas law, but since then Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh had succeeded retired Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, giving abortion opponents hope for even more substantial restrictions.
Associate Justice Stephen Breyer wrote the main opinion for the four liberal justices. He agreed with a federal trial court that found Louisiana’s law "poses a 'substantial obstacle' to women seeking an abortion" and "offers no significant health-related benefits."
"The law consequently imposes an 'undue burden' on a woman’s constitutional right to choose to have an abortion," he wrote.
Roberts made clear in a separate opinion that he dissented from the Texas ruling four years ago but that high court precedent must be followed.
"The Louisiana law imposes a burden on access to abortion just as severe as that imposed by the Texas law, for the same reasons," he wrote. "Therefore Louisiana’s law cannot stand under our precedents."
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that the president can fire at will the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the independent agency Congress created in 2010 to protect consumers from abuses in the banking and financial services industry, abuses that led to the 2008 financial meltdown. But the court left intact the rest of the statute that created the agency.
In order to ensure the CFPB's independence, the law creating the agency called for it to be headed by a single director, confirmed by the Senate, who would serve a five-year term and who could only be fired for malfeasance, inefficiency or neglect of duty.
That independent structure was challenged by the Trump administration, and a firm that was being investigated by the CFPB for misleading financial practices. Both claimed that the limits on the president's power to fire the agency head were unconstitutional, and today the Supreme Court agreed.
The decision was a victory for President Trump and for forces in the business community that have long sought to trim the sails of independent regulatory agencies, from the CFPB to multimember-led agencies, among them the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Reserve Board, the Federal Communications Commission and many more.