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SCOTUS Rules that Federal Law Prevents LGBTQ+ Job Discrimination After Trump Administration Rollbacks

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  • On Friday, the Trump administration rolled back an Obama-era law aimed at extending non-discrimination protections to transgender and non-binary patients seeking healthcare.
  • The announcement stoked criticism for multiple reasons, including the fact that it was announced on the fourth year of remembrance since the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting.
  • On Monday, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in the opposite direction, deciding 6-3 that “sex” workplace discrimination includes gender identity and sexual orientation. 
  • The Trump administration’s health care rollback could now face legal challenges following SCOTUS’ decision.

SCOTUS Ruling Forbids LGBTQ+ Workplace Discrimination

The Supreme Court of the United States ruled Monday that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from discriminating against LGBTQ+ workers. 

That decision, which won 6-3, comes after the Trump administration rolled back protections for transgender and non-binary people on Friday. Notably, conservative Chief Justice John Roberts and Trump appointee Neil Gorsuch joined the courts four liberal judges in the majority opinion. 

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 bars job discrimination based on race, religion, national origin, and sex. The question at hand in this series of cases involved whether or not “sex” discrimination extends to gender identity and sexual orientation. 

Aimee Stephens, a transgender funeral home director, claimed she was fired from her job after telling her boss that she planned to begin presenting as a woman. Two gay men, Gerald Bolstock and Donald Zarda, also each filed lawsuits for separate incidents where they claimed to have been fired because of their sexual orientation. Both Stephens and Zarda died prior to Monday’s ruling. 

During the case, the Trump administration argued that when Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it did not mean for the act to encompass discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The administration argued that to pass protections for LGBTQ+ individuals, Congress would need to pass a new law.

Lawyers for the workers have argued that discrimination against employees based on sexual orientation or transgender status must logically already be classified under “sex” discrimination. 

Most federal appeals courts have interpreted the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to exclude discrimination based on sexual orientation, though two in New York and Chicago have ruled in the opposite direction.

Prior to Monday’s decision, 21 states had laws prohibiting job discrimination based on sexual orientations and gender identity. Seven more provided some protection but only to public employees. 

Trump Admin. Formally Rollbacks Trans Healthcare Protections

The new decision could have implications for the Trump administration’s recent rollback to healthcare protections for LGBTQ+ individuals.

Currently, healthcare discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability is illegal; however, the Trump administration had argued that “sex” discrimination does not include gender identity. Rather, the administration follows the ideology that “sex” it simply refers to a person’s biological sex. 

Under those guidelines, for instance, a transgender man with ovarian cancer could be denied medical treatment or insurance coverage. In reality, however, this rollback may mean he could be denied for services as simple as a check up. 

There have been pushes to include a person’s gender identity in the “sex” category. In fact, the protections that the current administration is rolling back stim from an Obama-era rule. 

That rule would have extended federal protections by changing the definition of sex to include “one’s internal sense of gender, which may be male, female, neither, or a combination of male and female.” 

The ruled came about after the Obama administration expressed concern that transgender and non-binary people have a harder time accessing necessary care. Ultimately, those gender identity protections never took effect. Shortly after the rule was issued, those protections were frozen by a federal judge in Texas.

The Trump administration had been working to formally overhaul the rule for years. In April, it was reported that the administration was then moving to formally scrap the protective language.

“HHS respects the dignity of every human being, and as we have shown in our response to the pandemic, we vigorously protect and enforce the civil rights of all to the fullest extent permitted by our laws as passed by Congress,” Health and Human Services Civil Rights Office Director Roger Severino said on Friday during the announcement of the rollback. 

 We are unwavering in our commitment to enforcing civil rights in healthcare.” 

“It will eliminate mass confusion that was unleashed by the Obama-era decision to redefine sex to cover a wide array of gender identities, when sex as a biological reality is so important to the practice of medicine,” he said later that same day. 

LGBTQ+ Advocates Express Concern

A number of LGBTQ+ advocates have spoken out, many arguing that if HHS is removing protections for transgender and non-binary people, then it is not protecting the civil rights of all citizens. Many also pointed to the fact that the United States is still in the middle of a pandemic and asked why the U.S. was rolling back protections for certain Americans at this time. 

“At a time when protecting communities from the COVID-19 pandemic is paramount, your Department and the Trump Administration are knowingly putting the health and wellbeing of vulnerable individuals and children at risk, while blatantly promoting discrimination against LGBTQIA+ communities and religious minorities by pursuing the finalization of this proposed rule,” Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Patty Murray (D-WA) wrote in a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar.

Many have also criticized the timing of the announcement as it coincided with the fourth remembrance of the Pulse nightclub shoot. At the time it happened, the Pulse shooting was the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, claiming the lives of 49 people, many of which were LGBTQ+.

“Once again the callousness, cruelty and division are by design,” Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) said on Twitter.

“These actions demonstrate how little this Administration values the life, health and safety of LGBTQ people. It’s even more of a disgrace to do so on the anniversary of the deadliest attack on the LGBTQ community in US history,” Sharita Gruberg of the Center for American Progress said.

Immediately following the release, the Human Rights Campaign criticized the timing of this release and announced that it will be suing the Trump administration to overturn this move.

Despite backlash, a number of religious groups have praised the rule for strictly defining “sex” in terms of biological sex. 

“We are hopeful that this rule will help steer consideration of gender issues in health care back toward science and away from politics and ideology, back to the protection of professional medical judgment and the freedom to adhere to long-observed ethical and moral standards,” Dr. Jeff Barrows of the Christian Medical Association’s executive said.

Responding to the backlash, Severino called the timing of the release “purely coincidental.” He also disputed the claims that the new rules would endanger patients during the pandemic.

“Especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, we’ve gone into overdrive in terms of our civil rights enforcement, and that will not be affected. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect and accordance with the law,” he said of other provisions in Friday’s announcement.

See what others are saying: (NBC News) (USA Today) (NPR)

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Liz Cheney Ousted From GOP Leadership Role for Calling Out Trump’s Election Lies

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  • Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wy.) was ousted from her leadership post by Republicans on Wednesday due to her repeated criticism of former President Trump and his continued efforts to spread false information about the 2020 election.
  • The congresswoman remained defiant in remarks Tuesday night, where she argued Trump was “a threat America has never seen before” who “risks inciting further violence.” 
  • While many Republicans cheered Cheney’s removal as a key step to unify the party, others condemned the decision and accused GOP leadership of “canceling” her for speaking the truth.
  • The move represents perhaps the strongest indication since the Jan. 6 insurrection that the Republican Party will continue to embrace Trump and punish dissenters.

House GOP Removes Cheney From Top Spot

The House GOP voted to remove Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wy.), the number 3 Republican, from her leadership position Wednesday over her refusal to stay silent about former President Donald Trump’s false election claims.

The remarkable removal comes just four months after the former president incited an insurrection, causing major splits in the GOP.

The latest move is arguably the strongest signal that Republicans have decided their party line is unwavering loyalty to Trump, and that they believe his support is needed to win back the House in 2022.

This is not the first time that Republicans tried to oust Cheney from leadership. Earlier this year, Trump loyalists in the chamber held a vote to remove her after she voted to impeach the president for his role in the insurrection.

That attempt failed, largely because Cheney received backing from Republican leadership. This time, however, she did not have the support of Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.), who began mobilizing to remove the congresswoman last week after she tweeted that the 2020 election “was not stolen.”

“Anyone who claims it was is spreading THE BIG LIE, turning their back on the rule of law, and poisoning our democratic system,” she added. 

While Cheney has reiterated this stance many times since January, her latest comment seemed to be the final straw, and on Monday, McCarthy officially announced he was holding a vote on her position in a letter to his conference.

In the letter, which was full of contradictions, McCarthy claimed that the GOP was a “big tent party” of “free thought and debate,” while simultaneously calling for the removal of a leader who broke with Trump, and painting the vote as a necessary step to unify the party.

A majority of the party backed that decision Wednesday morning when McCarthy held a voice vote, making it so that the public will never know exactly how many people voted to remove the congresswoman.

Cheney’s Speech

Cheney, for her part, held firm to her beliefs in a defiant speech Tuesday ahead of the anticipated vote, where she continued to condemn Trump’s lies and accused her fellow Republicans of being complicit in undermining Democracy.

“Today we face a threat America has never seen before. A former president, who provoked a violent attack on this capital in an effort to steal the election, has resumed his aggressive effort to convince Americans that the election was stolen from him,” she said. 

“He risks inciting further violence. Millions of Americans have been misled by the former president, they have heard only his words, but not the truth, as he continues to undermine our democratic process, sowing seeds of doubt about whether democracy really works at all.” 

“This is not about policy. This is not about partisanship. This is about our duty as Americans,” she continued later.  “Remaining silent and ignoring the lie emboldens the liar. I will not participate in that. I will not sit back and watch in silence, while others lead our party down a path that abandons the rule of law and joins the former president’s crusade to undermine our democracy.”

Response

Cheney’s parting speech drew boos from some of her colleagues, many of whom cheered her ouster Wednesday.

“Liz Cheney is the GOP of the past,” Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Co.) tweeted. “We are not going back.”

Trump himself also issued a series of statements calling Cheney a “bitter, horrible human being,” and claiming that Republicans “have a great opportunity today to rid themselves of a poor leader, a major Democrat talking point, a warmonger, and a person with absolutely no personality or heart!”

However, many House Republicans condemned the move.

“i predict that the history books of the future will not celebrate,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Il.) wrote in a thread “They will say this was the low point of the Republican Party.” 

“Liz Cheney was canceled for speaking her mind,” Rep. Ken Buck (R-N.Y.) told reporters.

Next Steps

There has been a similarly mixed reception to Cheney’s anticipated replacement, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), who McCarthy has tapped to fill the position.

Stefanik took office as a moderate cheered for openly defying and condemning Trump. Her role in Congress changed drastically in the fall of 2019, when she became one of the most vocal opponents of his first impeachment, prompting him to tweet, “A new Republican Star is born.” 

After that, she booked more TV appearances, campaign donations, and general fame. Her support for the former president grew and she doubled down, spreading his false election claims in 2020.

If she is elected to leadership, as is expected, the top three House Republican leadership positions will all be held by people who voted to not certify President Joe Biden’s win.

Cheney, for her part, has made it clear she does not intend to go anywhere. After Wednesday’s vote, the congresswoman told reporters that she will do “everything” she can “to ensure that the former president never again gets anywhere near the Oval Office.”

“The nation needs a party that is based upon fundamental principles of conservatism, and I am committed and dedicated to ensuring that that’s how this party goes forward, and I plan to lead the fight to do that,” she added.

According to The Washington Post, sources have said that Cheney already spent the last week planning for increased travel and media appearances to promote her case and rally other Republicans behind her.

She likely will not be alone in her endeavors: on Tuesday, The New York Times reported that more than 100 current and former anti-Trump Republicans are preparing to release a letter this week threatening to split from the GOP and create a third party if changes are not made.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (NPR)

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Biden Says Americans Will Lose Unemployment Benefits if They Turn Down “Suitable” Jobs

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  • President Biden said Monday that out-of-work Americans will lose their enhanced federal unemployment benefits if they turn down a “suitable” job offer.
  • The announcement follows a stark jobs report from the Labor Department, which found that just over 260,000 jobs were added in April when nearly 1 million had been projected.
  • Republican lawmakers blamed the additional $300 a week in joblessness benefits provided by the federal government, and several Republican-led states have opted out of the programs, arguing that doing so will encourage people to go back to work.
  • Biden rejected those arguments, noting that numerous studies disprove that claim. Instead, he said American corporations should do more to entice people to work, such as providing pay raises and COVID safety precautions.

Biden Addresses Benefits as Job Creation Falters

President Joe Biden on Monday ordered the Labor Department to ensure that Americans will lose their enhanced federal unemployment benefits if they do not accept a “suitable” job when offered.

In remarks at the White House, Biden also said he would direct the agency to work jointly with states to reimpose the requirement that people collecting joblessness benefits must show they are actively looking for work.

The comments come just days after the latest jobs report showed far fewer positions created than expected. The Labor Department reported that just 266,000 jobs were added last month, even though economists had predicted it would be about 1 million.

While broad swaths of the U.S. economy are opening up as more Americans get vaccinated, some employers have reported that they are having a hard time finding workers.

Republicans have largely argued that this is because of the additional $300 a week in unemployment benefits Americans are collecting from the last stimulus package.

The Unemployment Debate

In his address, however, Biden hit back on that claim. He said the White House does not “see much evidence” that benefits have deterred people from taking jobs — a fact that is supported by numerous studies on pandemic unemployment benefits. He also argued that corporate America has to do more to encourage people to come back to work.

The president placed responsibility on employers, especially those who have accepted federal relief, to raise their pay, protect their workers from the virus, and help them gain access to vaccinations so out-of-work Americans feel safe going back.

“My expectation is that as the economy comes back, these companies will provide fair wages and safe work environments, and if they do, they’ll find plenty of workers,” he said. “And we’re all going to come out of this together and better than before.”

Some companies have already started to take similar steps, like Chipotle, which announced Monday that it was raising its average wage to $15 an hour to address the labor shortage. However, many big companies will simply wait it out.

Those businesses may not have to wait long because a growing number of Republican-led states have been rejecting the increased federal unemployment money. On Monday, the governors of Alabama and Mississippi joined Montana, South Carolina, and Arkansas and announced their states would be leaving the programs by mid-June. More states are likely to do the same. 

See what others are saying: (NPR) (CBS News) (CNBC)

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Trump’s DOJ Allegedly Obtained Phone Records of WaPo Reporters Covering Russia Probe

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  • Former President Trump’s Justice Department secretly obtained phone records from Washington Post journalists covering Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election, the outlet reported Friday.
  • The DOJ seized records of the work, home, and cellphone numbers of three reporters from April 15 to July 31, 2017. Those records included who the calls were with and how long they were, but not what was said.
  • Many journalists and Free Speech activists condemned the action and called on the Biden administration to end the practice of record subpoenas, which are often used by the government to find clues about possible sources and can harm key newsgathering.
  • A DOJ spokesperson defended the previous administration’s actions, arguing that the news media are not the targets of such investigations but rather, “those with access to the national defense information who provided it to the media and thus failed to protect it as lawfully required.”

Washington Post Reporters Subpoenaed

The Washington Post reported Friday that the Justice Department under former President Donald Trump secretly obtained phone records from some of its journalists regarding reporting they did on Russia’s role in the 2016 election.

According to the outlet, the DOJ sent three separate letters dated May 3 and addressed to three former Post journalists to inform them they were “hereby notified that pursuant to legal process the United States Department of Justice received toll records associated with the following telephone numbers for the period from April 15, 2017 to July 31, 2017.” 

The letters, which listed work, home, or cellphone numbers, also stated that prosecutors had gotten a court order to obtain records for the reporters’ work email accounts, but that they did not ultimately not obtain those records.

The phone records, the outlet said, “included the numbers of all the calls made to and from the targeted phone over the specified time period, and how long each call lasted, but do not include what was said in those phone calls.”

“Investigators often hope such records will provide clues about possible sources the reporters were in contact with before a particular story published,” it added.

The Post reported that the letters do not say why the DOJ was seizing the phone records. However, it did note that toward the end of the time period outlined, the three reporters had written a story about classified U.S. intelligence intercepts that indicated then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions had discussed the Trump campaign with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. when he was a sitting senator in 2016.

The alleged move is significant because it is rare for the DOJ to use subpoenas in order to obtain records of reporters in leak investigations. In fact, the last high-profile seizure of communication records was part of an investigation into a source cited in 2017 reporting that was also about the investigation into Russian election interference.

Also very notably, these subpoenas need to be approved directly by the attorney general. A spokesperson for the DOJ told The Post that the records had been requested in 2020, meaning it would have likely taken place under Attorney General William Barr, who stepped down on Dec. 23.

Response

The allegations immediately drew criticism from First Amendment advocates and journalists, who have long opposed the practice of obtaining these kinds of records, and argued that attempts to identify sources of leaks hurt critical news gathering and reporting.

“We are deeply troubled by this use of government power to seek access to the communications of journalists,” said Cameron Barr, the current acting executive editor of The Post. “The Department of Justice should immediately make clear its reasons for this intrusion into the activities of reporters doing their jobs, an activity protected under the First Amendment.”

Many other journalists also demanded that the Biden administration ensure such practices are not replicated, noting the escalated efforts to subpoena reporters records under both the Trump and Obama administrations.

However, a DOJ spokesperson defended the previous administration’s decision to subpoena The Post reporters in a statement to the outlet.

“While rare, the Department follows the established procedures within its media guidelines policy when seeking legal process to obtain telephone toll records and non-content email records from media members as part of a criminal investigation into unauthorized disclosure of classified information,” the spokesperson said. 

“The targets of these investigations are not the news media recipients but rather those with access to the national defense information who provided it to the media and thus failed to protect it as lawfully required.”

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Variety) (CNN)

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