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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)

Politics

Jan. 6 Committee Prepares Criminal Charges Against Steve Bannon for Ignoring Subpoena

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The move comes after former President Trump told several of his previous aides not to cooperate with the committee’s investigation into the insurrection.


Bannon Refuses to Comply With Subpoena

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection announced Thursday that it is seeking to hold former White House advisor Steve Bannon in criminal contempt for refusing to comply with a subpoena.

The decision marks a significant escalation in the panel’s efforts to force officials under former President Donald Trump’s administration to comply with its probe amid Trump’s growing efforts to obstruct the inquiry.

In recent weeks, the former president has launched a number of attempts to block the panel from getting key documents, testimonies, and other evidence requested by the committee that he claims are protected by executive privilege.

Notably, some of those assertions have been shut down. On Friday, President Joe Biden rejected Trump’s effort to withhold documents relating to the insurrection.

Still, Trump has also directed former officials in his administration not to comply with subpoenas or cooperate with the committee. 

That demand came after the panel issued subpoenas ordering depositions from Bannon and three other former officials: Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Deputy Chief of Staff Dan Scavino, and Pentagon Chief of Staff Kash Patel.

After Trump issued his demand, Bannon’s lawyer announced that he would not obey the subpoena until the panel reached an agreement with Trump or a court ruled on the executive privilege matter.

Many legal experts have questioned whether Bannon, who left the White House in 2017, can claim executive privilege for something that happened when he was not working for the executive.

Panel Intensifies Compliance Efforts

The Thursday decision from the committee is significant because it will likely set up a legal battle and test how much authority the committee can and will exercise in requiring compliance.

It also sets an important precedent for those who have been subpoenaed. While Bannon is the first former official to openly defy the committee, there have been reports that others plan to do the same. 

The panel previously said Patel and Meadows were “engaging” with investigators, but on Thursday, several outlets reported that the two — who were supposed to appear before the body on Thursday and Friday respectively —  are now expected to be given an extension or continuance.

Sources told reporters that Scavino, who was also asked to testify Friday, has had his deposition postponed because service of his subpoena was delayed.

As far as what happens next for Bannon, the committee will vote to adopt the contempt report next week. Once that is complete, the matter will go before the House for a full vote.  

Assuming the Democratic-held House approves the contempt charge, it will then get referred to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia to bring the matter before a grand jury.

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

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Senate Votes To Extend Debt Ceiling Until December

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The move adds another deadline to Dec. 3, which is also when the federal government is set to shut down unless Congress approves new spending.


Debt Ceiling Raised Temporarily

The Senate voted on Thursday to extend the debt ceiling until December, temporarily averting a fiscal catastrophe.

The move, which followed weeks of stalemate due to Republican objections, came after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) partially backed down from his blockade and offered a short-term proposal.

After much whipping of votes, 11 Republicans joined Democrats to break the legislative filibuster and move to final approval of the measure. The bill ultimately passed in a vote of 50-48 without any Republican support.

The legislation will now head to the House, where Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said members would be called back from their current recess for a vote on Tuesday. 

The White House said President Joe Biden would sign the measure, but urged Congress to pass a longer extension.

“We cannot allow partisan politics to hold our economy hostage, and we can’t allow the routine process of paying our bills to turn into a confidence-shaking political showdown every two years or every two months,’’ White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.

Under the current bill, the nation’s borrowing limit will be increased by $480 billion, which the Treasury Department said will cover federal borrowing until around Dec. 3.

The agency had previously warned that it would run out of money by Oct. 18 if Congress failed to act. Such a move would have a chilling impact on the economy, forcing the U.S. to default on its debts and potentially plunging the country into a recession. 

Major Hurdles Remain

While the legislation extending the ceiling will certainly offer temporary relief, it sets up another perilous deadline for the first Friday in December, when government funding is also set to expire if Congress does not approve another spending bill.

Regardless of the new deadline, many of the same hurdles lawmakers faced the first time around remain. 

Democrats are still struggling to hammer out the final details of Biden’s $3.5 trillion spending agenda, which Republicans have strongly opposed.

Notably, Democratic leaders previously said they could pass the bill through budget reconciliation, which would allow them to approve the measure with 50 votes and no Republican support.

Such a move would require all 50 Senators, but intraparty disputes remain over objections brought by Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Az.), who have been stalling the process for months.

Although disagreements over reconciliation are ongoing among Democrats, McConnell has insisted the party use the obscure procedural process to raise the debt limit. Democrats, however, have balked at the idea, arguing that tying the debt ceiling to reconciliation would set a dangerous precedent.

Despite Republican efforts to connect the limit to Biden’s economic agenda, raising the ceiling is not the same as adopting new spending. Rather, the limit is increased to pay off spending that has already been authorized by previous sessions of Congress and past administrations.

In fact, much of the current debt stems from policies passed by Republicans during the Trump administration, including the 2017 tax overhaul. 

As a result, while Democrats have signaled they may make concessions to Manchin and Sinema, they strongly believe that Republicans must join them to increase the debt ceiling to fund projects their party supported. 

It is currently unclear when or how the ongoing stalemate will be resolved, or how either party will overcome their fervent objections.

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

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California Makes Universal Voting by Mail Permanent

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California is now the eighth state to make universal mail-in ballots permanent after it temporarily adopted the policy for elections held amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 


CA Approves Universal Voting by Mail

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed a bill Monday requiring every registered voter in the state to be mailed a ballot at least 29 days before an election, whether they request it or not.

Assembly Bill 37 makes permanent a practice that was temporarily adopted for elections during the COVID-19 pandemic. The law, which officially takes effect in January, also extends the time mail ballots have to arrive at elections offices from three days to seven days after an election. Voters can still choose to cast their vote in person if they prefer.

Supporters of the policy have cheered the move, arguing that proactively sending ballots to registered voters increases turnout.

“Data shows that sending everyone a ballot in the mail provides voters access. And when voters get ballots in the mail, they vote,” the bill’s author, Assemblyman Marc Berman (D-Palo Alto), said during a Senate committee hearing in July.

Meanwhile opponents — mostly Republicans — have long cast doubts about the safety of mail-in voting, despite a lack of evidence to support their claims that it leads to widespread voter fraud. That strategy, however, has also faced notable pushback from some that a lot of Republicans who say it can actually hurt GOP turnout.

Others May Follow

The new legislation probably isn’t too surprising for California, where over 50% of votes cast in general elections have been through mail ballots since 2012, according to The Sacramento Bee. Now, many believe California will be followed by similar legislation from Democrats across the country as more Republican leaders move forward with elections bills that significantly limit voting access.

Newsome signed 10 other measures Monday changing election and campaign procedures, including a bill that would require anyone advocating for or against a candidate to stand farther away from a polling place. Another bill increases penalties for candidates who use campaign funds for personal expenses while a third measure increases reporting requirements for limited liability corporations that engage in campaign activity.

“As states across our country continue to enact undemocratic voter suppression laws, California is increasing voter access, expanding voting options and bolstering elections integrity and transparency,” Newsom said in a statement.

“Last year we took unprecedented steps to ensure all voters had the opportunity to cast a ballot during the pandemic and today we are making those measures permanent after record-breaking participation in the 2020 presidential election.”

The news regarding California came just in time for National Voter Registration day today, giving Americans another reminder to make sure they’re registered in their states. For more information on how to register, visit Vote.gov or any of the other resources linked below.

See what others are saying: (The Hill) (Los Angeles Times) (The Sacramento Bee)

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