The Supreme Court made a number of decisions and non-decisions yesterday. Let’s start with the good news first!
As I’m sure you’ve all heard by now, the Supreme Court voted 6-3 that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does provide protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. About damn time! It was a no-brainer to start with! Nobody should be fired for anything other than poor job performance … not because of skin colour, religion or lack thereof, gender or gender identity, or any other superficial criteria. But, in the United States of Bigotry, far too many people did not understand.
But one of the things that makes this decision by the Court so amazing is that Justice Gorsuch, a justice hand-picked by Trump, was on the side of right. In fact, he wrote the majority opinion which in part reads …
“An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law. 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. It is impossible to discriminate against a person for being homosexual or transgender without discriminating against that individual based on sex.”
So, who were the three Justices who thought otherwise, who are such homophobes that they cannot abide the idea of a gay person being treated fairly? Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and predictably, Trump’s crybaby pick, Brett Kavanaugh. And what was their rationale? I read parts of Justice Alito’s dissenting opinion, and found it to be rambling rubbish. A few snippets …
“A more brazen abuse of our authority to interpret statutes is hard to recall. The court tries to convince readers that it is merely enforcing the terms of the statute, but that is preposterous. After today’s decision, plaintiffs may claim that the failure to use their preferred pronoun violates one of the federal laws prohibiting sex discrimination. For women who have been victimized by sexual assault or abuse, the experience of seeing an unclothed person with the anatomy of a male in a confined and sensitive location such as a bathroom or locker room can cause serious psychological harm.”
Bullshit! It seems that a number of people in this nation share Alito’s, Thomas’, and Kavanaugh’s opinion and still haven’t awakened to the fact that LGBT people are … PEOPLE. Human beings just like any other who have the right to an education, a job, and all the other rights and privileges enjoyed by others. It’s not surprising to see which political party has the most homophobes …At any rate, this is justice as it should be, and for once, fairness won the day.
The Court sometimes speaks as loudly in the cases they don’t hear as the ones they do. In three notable cases yesterday, such was the case.
The first notable case the Court decided against hearing was a compilation of nearly a dozen cases that gun rights groups claim violate their 2nd Amendment rights. Among them were cases involving restrictions in Maryland and New Jersey to permits for carrying a handgun outside the home. For now, at least, the restrictions put in place by the states are allowed to stand. Justices Thomas and Kavanaugh, of course, disagreed, with Thomas saying …
“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.”
Sorry, Thomas … not a valid comparison.
Next, the Court declined to hear a case concerning a California state law that prohibited state authorities from assisting federal immigration agents (e.g., alerting the federal government when someone in custody was to be released or handing off an undocumented person to federal authorities). The Trump administration, in its never-ending hunt to harass and deport undocumented immigrants (regardless of the danger they pose to society and their roots in the community), sued.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit agreed with the district court that the California law was constitutional. Thus Trump’s lawyers took it to the Supreme Court, who has now refused to hear it. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito noted publicly that they would have granted the government’s petition, and I can only assume that Kavanaugh would have, also. This is a win in that it leaves in place California’s law, which reaffirms that states cannot be dragooned into performing services for the federal government.
And now for the bad news …
The court declined to hear eight cases challenging the doctrine of qualified immunity, which acts to shield police and others acting from lawsuits. It is this qualified immunity that has enabled so many officers to walk away without punishment after killing unarmed black men in situations that did not require the use of excess force.
In response to the Court’s decision not to hear the cases, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, Congressional Black Caucus Chair Karen Bass, and Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Chair Steve Cohen released a statement reading, in part …
“Qualified immunity has repeatedly barred victims of police brutality from having their day in court, and it has been criticized by liberals and conservatives alike.
The Supreme Court’s failure to reconsider this flawed legal rule makes it all the more important for Congress to act. The Justice in Policing Act of 2020 does just that: it makes clear that qualified immunity cannot be used as a defense in civil rights suits against federal, state, or local law enforcement officers. It is long past time to remove this arbitrary and unlawful barrier and to ensure police are held accountable when they violate the constitutional rights of the people whom they are meant to serve.”
I fully agree … in my book, it was unconscionable for the Court to refuse to review these cases, where their review might have ruled that police are, in fact, accountable for their actions.
Well, there you have it … a summary of the most important cases, decisions and non-decisions of the Supreme Court yesterday. The first, of course, is a huge win and should be celebrated. I am pleased that Justice Neil Gorsuch took a stand on the side of right, as did Chief Justice Roberts. I’m also pleased that the Court upheld California’s right to protect its immigrant population from draconian federal agencies directed by Trump. I’m less pleased by the final non-decision, but given the current situation, the protests that have come as a result of decades of police brutality against people of colour, I think change is going to happen, despite the Supreme Court refusing to be the agent of that change.