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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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Supreme Court Begins Contentious New Term as Approval Rating Hits Historic Low

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The most volatile cases the court will consider involve affirmative action, voting rights, elections, and civil rights for the LGBTQ+ community.


High Court to Hear Numerous Controversial Cases

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday officially kicked off a new term that will be marked by a number of very contentious cases.

The justices, led by a conservative super-majority, will hear many matters that have enormous implications for the American people.

The first case the court will hear this term involves a major environmental dispute that will determine the scope of government authority under the Clean Water Act — a decision that could have a massive impact on U.S. water quality at a time when water crises’ have been heightened by climate change.

The case also comes amid increasing concerns about federal inaction regarding climate change, especially after the Supreme Court significantly limited the government’s power to act in this area at the end of its last term.

Cases Involving Race

Several of the most anticipated decisions also center around race, including a pair of cases that challenge affirmative action programs at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina.

For over four decades, the high court has repeatedly upheld that race can be a factor in college admissions to ensure a more equitable student body. Despite the fact that multiple challenges have been struck down in the past, the court’s conservative super majority could very well undo 40 years of precedent and undermine essential protections.

The high court will decide a legal battle that could significantly damage key voting protections for minorities set forth under the Voting Rights Act (VRA). The case in question stems from a lower court opinion that invalidated Alabama’s congressional map for violating a provision in the VRA prohibiting voting rules that discriminate on the basis of race.

Alabama had drawn its map so only one of its seven congressional districts was majority Black, despite the fact that nearly one in every three voting-age residents in the state are Black. 

States’ Power Over Elections 

Also on the topic of gerrymandering and elections, the justices will hear a case that could have a profound impact on the very nature of American democracy. The matter centers around a decision by the North Carolina Supreme Court to strike down the Republican-drawn congressional map on the grounds that it amounted to an illegal gerrymander that violated the state’s Constitution.

The North Carolina GOP appealed that decision to the Supreme Court, arguing that the U.S. Constitution’s Elections Clause gives state legislatures almost total control over how federal elections are carried out in their state under a theory called the independent state legislature doctrine.

“That argument, in its most extreme form, would mean that [sic] no state court and no state agency could interfere with the state legislature’s version of election rules, regardless of the rules set down in the state constitution,” NPR explained.

In other words, if the Supreme Court sides with the North Carolina Republicans, they would essentially be giving state legislatures unchecked power over how voting maps are designed and elections are administered.

LGBTQ+ Rights

Another notable decision the justices will make could have huge implications for the LGBTQ+ community and civil rights more broadly. That matter involved a web designer in Colorado named Lori Smith who refused to design websites for same-sex couples because she believed it violates her right to religious freedoms.

That belief, however, goes against a Colorado nondiscrimination law that bans businesses that serve the public from denying their services to customers based on sexual orientation or identity.

As a result, Smith argues that the Colorado law violates the right to free speech under the First Amendment. If the high court rules in her favor, it would undermine protections for the LGBTQ+ community in Colorado and likely other states with similar laws.

Experts also say such a ruling could go far beyond that. As Georgetown University’s Kelsi Corkran told NPR, “if Smith is correct that there’s a free speech right to selectively choose her customers based on the messages she wants to endorse,” the Colorado law would also allow white supremacists to deny services to people of color because that “would be a message of endorsement.”

Record-Low Approval Rating

The court’s high-stakes docket also comes at a time when its reputation has been marred by questions of legitimacy.

A new Gallup poll published last week found that the Supreme Court’s approval rating has sunk to a record low. Specifically, less than half of Americans said they have at least a “fair amount” of trust in the judicial branch — a 20% drop from just two years ago.

Beyond that, a record number of people also now say that the court is too conservative. Experts argue that these numbers are massively consequential, especially as the U.S. heads into yet another highly-contentious court term.

“The Supreme Court is at an important moment,” Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs told The Hill

“Trust in the institutions has vastly diminished, certainly among Democrats, and many have a close eye on how they rule on other vital matters. If decisions seem to keep coming from a very pointed political direction, frustration and calls for reform will only mount.”

See what others are saying: (The Hill) (CNN) (The Wall Street Journal)

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Biden Mistakenly Calls Out For Dead Lawmaker at White House Event

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The remarks prompted concerns about the mental state of the president, who previously mourned the congresswoman’s death in an official White House statement.


“Where’s Jackie?” 

Video of President Joe Biden publicly asking if a congresswoman who died last month was present at a White House event went viral Wednesday, giving rise to renewed questions about the leader’s mental acuity.

The remarks were made at the White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health, which Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-In.) had helped convene and organize before her sudden death in a car accident.

The president thanked the group of bipartisan lawmakers who helped make the event happen, listing them off one by one, and appearing to look around in search of Rep. Walorski when he reached her name.

“Jackie, are you here? Where’s Jackie?” he called. “I think she wasn’t going to be here to help make this a reality.” 

The incident flummoxed many, especially because Biden had even acknowledged her work on the conference in an official White House statement following her death last month.

“Jill and I are shocked and saddened by the death of Congresswoman Jackie Walorski of Indiana along with two members of her staff in a car accident today in Indiana,” the statement read.

“I appreciated her partnership as we plan for a historic White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health this fall that will be marked by her deep care for the needs of rural America.”

The Age Maximum Question

Numerous social media users and news outlets presented the mishap as evidence that Biden, who is 79, does not have the mental capacity to serve as president. Others, meanwhile, raised the possibility of imposing an age maximum for the presidency.

Most of the comments against the president came from the right, which has regularly questioned his mental stability. However, the idea of an age limit goes beyond Biden and touches on concerns about America’s most important leaders being too old.

While Biden is the oldest president in history, former President Donald Trump — who is 76 and has also had his mental state continually questioned — would have likewise held that title if he had won re-election in 2020.

These concerns extend outside the presidency as well: the current session of Congress is the oldest on average of any Congress in recent history, and the median ages are fairly similar among Republicans and Democrats when separated by chambers.

There is also a higher percentage of federal lawmakers who are older than the median age. Nearly 1 out of every 4 members are over the age of 70.

Source: Business Insider

What’s more, some of the people in the highest leadership positions are among the oldest members. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.), is the oldest-ever House Speaker at 82, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) — the president pro tempore of the Senate and third person in line for the presidency — is the same age, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is 80.

As a result, it is unsurprising that a recent Insider/Morning Consult poll found that 3 in 4 Americans support an age max for members of Congress, and more than 40% say they view the ages of political leaders as a “major” problem.

Those who support the regulations argue that age limits are standard practice in many industries, including for airplane pilots and the military, and thus should be imposed on those who have incredible amounts of power over the country.

However, setting age boundaries on Congress and the President would almost certainly necessitate changes to the Constitution, and because such a move would require federal lawmakers to curtail their own power, there is little political will.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Business Insider) (NBC News)

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Churches Protected Loophole in Abuse Reporting for 20 years, Report Finds

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In some cases, Clergy members failed to report abuse among their congregation, but state laws protected them from that responsibility.


A Nationwide Campaign to Hide Abuse

More than 130 bills seeking to create or amend child sexual abuse reporting laws have been neutered or killed due to religious opposition over the past two decades, according to a review by the Associated Press.

Many states have laws requiring professionals such as physicians, teachers, and psychotherapists to report any information pertaining to alleged child sexual abuse to authorities. In 33 states, however, clergy are exempt from those requirements if they deem the information privileged.

All of the reform bills reviewed either targeted this loophole and failed or amended the mandatory reporting statute without touching the loophole.

“The Roman Catholic Church has used its well-funded lobbying infrastructure and deep influence among lawmakers in some states to protect the privilege,” the AP stated. “Influential members of the Mormon church and Jehovah’s witnesses have also worked in statehouses and courts to preserve it in areas where their membership is high.”

“This loophole has resulted in an unknown number of predators being allowed to continue abusing children for years despite having confessed the behavior to religious officials,” the report continued.

“They believe they’re on a divine mission that justifies keeping the name and the reputation of their institution pristine,” David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, told the outlet. “So the leadership has a strong disincentive to involve the authorities, police or child protection people.”

Abuses Go Unreported

Last month, another AP investigation discovered that a Mormon bishop acting under the direction of church leaders in Arizona failed to report a church member who had confessed to sexually abusing his five-year-old daughter.

Merrill Nelson, a church lawyer and Republican lawmaker in Utah, reportedly advised the bishop against making the report because of Arizona’s clergy loophole, effectively allowing the father to allegedly rape and abuse three of his children for years.

Democratic State Sen. Victoria Steele proposed three bills in response to the case to close the loophole but told the AP that key Mormon legislators thwarted her efforts.

In Montana, a woman who was abused by a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses won a $35 million jury verdict against the church because it failed to report her abuse, but in 2020 the state supreme court reversed the judgment, citing the state’s reporting exemption for clergy.

In 2013, a former Idaho police officer turned himself in for abusing children after having told 15 members of the Mormon church, but prosecutors declined to charge the institution for not reporting him because it was protected under the clergy loophole.

The Mormon church said in a written statement to the AP that a member who confesses child sex abuse “has come seeking an opportunity to reconcile with God and to seek forgiveness for their actions. … That confession is considered sacred, and in most states, is regarded as a protected religious conversation owned by the confessor.”

See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (Deseret) (Standard Examiner)

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