Monday, June 15, 2020

A Supreme Day All Around

Mondays in June mean that the US Supreme Court hands down major case decisions, and today was one of the biggest in history. The Roberts Court ruled 6-3 that the Civil Rights Act of 1964's protected classes against job discrimination does indeed include LGBTQ Americans.

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that a landmark civil rights law protects LGBT people from discrimination in employment, a resounding victory for LGBT rights from a conservative court.

The court decided by a 6-3 vote that a key provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 known as Title VII that bars job discrimination because of sex, among other reasons, encompasses bias against LGBT workers.

“An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote for the court.

Justices Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas dissented.

The Court tries to convince readers that it is merely enforcing the terms of the statute, but that is preposterous. Even as understood today, the concept of discrimination because of ‘sex’ is different from discrimination because of ‘sexual orientation’ or ‘gender identity,’” Alito wrote in a dissent that was joined by Thomas.

The outcome is expected to have a big impact for the estimated 8.1 million LGBT workers across the country because most states don’t protect them from workplace discrimination. An estimated 11.3 million LGBT people live in the U.S., according to the Williams Institute at the UCLA law school.
The cases were the court’s first on LGBT rights since Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement and replacement by Kavanaugh. Kennedy was a voice for gay rights and the author of the landmark ruling in 2015 that made same-sex marriage legal throughout the United States. Kavanaugh generally is regarded as more conservative.

The Trump administration had changed course from the Obama administration, which supported LGBT workers in their discrimination claims under Title VII.

And yeah, Neil Gorsuch wrote this opinion playing the role of the late Justice Antonin Scalia saying "Sorry conservatives, technically this is correct if we look at the law" and Chief Justice Roberts signed on along the right side of history with the four liberals.

So yeah, this is a huge, huge decision. You can no longer be fired for being gay.

And that brings us to the other major decision of the Court, the decision to reject taking up any of the major gun control cases next term.

The Supreme Court on Monday turned away a host of challenges to state laws placing restrictions on firearms, declining to take up the contentious matter of gun rights in the U.S. after sidestepping the issue in April.

In declining to take up the appeals, the justices leave intact laws from several states that gun rights supporters said violated their Second Amendment rights. Among the cases turned away were legal battles over laws in at least four states — Massachusetts, Maryland, Illinois and New Jersey — that require residents to meet certain criteria in order to get a permit, including demonstrating a specific need, to carry a handgun outside the home.

In one of the cases out of Massachusetts, the justices declined to weigh in on the state's ban on certain semiautomatic firearms and high-capacity magazines. A dispute over a similar rule in Cook County, Illinois, was also rejected by the Supreme Court. In the case from California, the justices turned away a challenge to a state law that requires handguns sold in the state to use microstamping technology and meet specific design requirements.

The legal battle from New Jersey involved a state law that requires residents to demonstrate they have a "justifiable need" to carry a firearm, which can be satisfied if a private citizen can "specify in detail the urgent necessity for self-protection, as evidenced by specific threats or previous attacks which demonstrate a special danger to the applicant's life that cannot be avoided by other means other than by issuance of a permit to carry a handgun."

Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, dissented from the court's denial of certiorari in the New Jersey case, writing it is time for the Supreme Court should not prolong its "decade-long failure to protect the Second Amendment."

"This Court would almost certainly review the constitutionality of a law requiring citizens to establish a justifiable need before exercising their free speech rights. And it seems highly unlikely that the Court would allow a State to enforce a law requiring a woman to provide a justifiable need before seeking an abortion," Thomas wrote. "But today, faced with a petition challenging just such a restriction on citizens' Second Amendment rights, the Court simply looks the other way."

The cases presented the Supreme Court with the chance to expand the scope of the Second Amendment, which it has declined to do since its last major ruling in a gun rights case in 2010.

You only need four justices to agree to hear a case, which means the four conservatives (note that Alito and Gorsuch did not sign on the Thomas and Kavanaugh's dissent) don't think they would win in a 5-4 Roberts decision, and that the four liberals were happy enough to leave the laws in Massachusetts and New Jersey alone.

That means that for now, SCOTUS won't go after striking down firearms safety laws in states, and it means that Roberts probably isn't willing to be the fifth justice to strike down those laws in the future.  Yet.

We'll see.

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