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Supreme Court makes two pro-LGBT rulings

Non-discrimination, disclosure issues decided

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The U.S. Supreme Court made pro-LGBT rulings in two cases during the final week of its term, which ended Monday.

Justices ruled in favor of the constitutionality of a California law school’s non-discrimination policy as well as state disclosure laws that would make public the names of those who signed a petition to put an anti-gay referendum on the Washington State ballot.

In the case of Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, the court upheld Monday in a 5-4 decision the University of California, Hastings College of Law’s non-discrimination policy against a legal challenge from a Christian group that aimed to discriminate against LGBT people.

The school’s Hastings Christian Fellowship sought to overturn a non-discrimination policy to maintain its status as an official school group while prohibiting LGBT people from holding positions as officers. The group contended the school’s policy violated the chapter’s freedom of association and speech under the First Amendment.

But U.S. Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — who wrote the majority opinion in the ruling — said the school’s policy is constitutional because it’s “a reasonable, viewpoint-neutral condition on access to the student-organization forum.”

“In requiring [Christian Legal Society] — in common with all other student organizations — to choose between welcoming all students and forgoing the benefits of official recognition, we hold, Hastings did not transgress constitutional limitations,” she writes.

Joining Ginsburg in the majority opinion were Associate Justices Anthony Kennedy, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor. Associate Justice John Paul Stevens marked his final day on the bench by filing a concurring opinion.

While upholding Hastings’ policy, the court also remanded to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals an assertion by the Christian Legal Society that Hastings has been selectively applying its non-discrimination policy.

Associate Justice Samuel Alito filed the dissent. In his opinion, Alito writes that the Supreme Court didn’t properly address the constitutionality of Hastings’ policy and is setting precedent that could stifle free speech.

“Brushing aside inconvenient precedent, the Court arms public educational institutions with a handy weapon for suppressing the speech of unpopular groups,” Alito writes.

Joining Alito in the dissenting opinion were Chief Justice John Roberts as well as Associate Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

In the majority opinion, Ginsburg notes as an official group, the Christian Legal Society chapter would be entitled to financial assistance from the school derived from mandatory student fees. She says current policy “ensures that no Hastings student is forced to fund a group that would reject her as a member.”

Additionally, Ginsburg emphasizes that although Hastings may exclude the Christian Legal Society chapter as an official group — or as a registered student organization — the organization still has some capacity to meet and communicate on campus.

“In this case, Hastings offered [Christian Legal Society] access to school facilities to conduct meetings and the use of chalkboards and generally available bulletin boards to advertise events,” Ginsburg writes. “Although [Christian Legal Society] could not take advantage of [certain] methods of communication … the advent of electronic media and social-networking sites reduces the importance of those channels.”

In a statement, Christopher Stoll, senior attorney for the National Center of Lesbian Rights, said the decision “affirmed the longstanding doctrine” that non-discrimination policies don’t “violate free speech when applied in a consistent and even-handed way.”

“The court rejected the dangerous argument that anti-gay groups must be given a special exemption from non-discrimination policies,” Stoll said.

NCLR was among the groups representing Outlaw, Hastings’ LGBT student group, which intervened to defend Hastings’ non-discrimination policy.

Paul Smith, who represented Outlaw, said all the respondents are “gratified” by the court’s decision said it reflects the views articulated in briefs to the court.

“The Hastings policy that all recognized and subsidized student groups have to be open to all comers is designed to … assure that educational opportunities are equally open to all, and … promote the open interchange of ideas among students,” he said.

The Hastings College of Law and the Christian Legal Society didn’t immediately respond to the Blade’s request for comment.

In a separate decision June 24, the court ruled against people seeking to keep secret the names of people who last year signed a petition to put an anti-gay referendum on the Washington State ballot.

The court determined 8-1 in Doe v. Reed that public disclosure of referendum petitions doesn’t — as a general rule — violate the First Amendment rights of signers.

But the decision left room for anti-gay activists to succeed at a lower court on the more focused question of whether making public the signatures for Referendum 71 specifically runs contrary to the U.S. Constitution. Roberts wrote the majority opinion in the decision. The sole dissenting voice in ruling came from Thomas.

The initiative in question, Referendum 71, came before Washington State residents in 2009 and threatened to abrogate the expansion of the state’s domestic partner registry. But 53 percent of the electorate voted in favor of upholding the law, keeping the registry in place.

Concurrent with the campaign against the law, people who put the anti-gay initiative on the ballot — led by Protect Marriage Washington — challenged Washington State’s Public Records Act, which requires public disclosure of the names of petition signers who put referenda on the ballot.

The U.S. District Court of the Western District of Washington issued a preliminary injunction blocking the publication of signatures, and the issue made its way to the Supreme Court.

Plaintiffs argued the law could put people who signed the petition in danger after their names became public. In defense of the statute, Washington State argued disclosure contributes to electoral integrity of the ballot process and allows the public to double-check in case a mistake is made.

Roberts affirms in the majority opinion the arguments that public disclosure promotes electoral integrity and concludes the disclosure law enables the public to find potential mistakes or instances of forgery.

“Public disclosure thus helps ensure that the only signatures counted are those that should be, and that the only referenda placed on the ballot are those that garner enough valid signatures,” he writes. “Public disclosure also promotes transparency and accountability in the electoral process to an extent other measures cannot.”

Roberts also rejects the assertion from plaintiffs that the court should overturn the disclosure law on the basis that disclosure of the names of people who signed the Referendum 71 petition would place these signers in danger.

The chief justice says the question before the court isn’t whether “disclosure violates the First Amendment with respect to those who signed the R-71 petition,” but whether this disclosure “in general violates the First Amendment rights of those who sign referendum petitions.”

“The problem for plaintiffs is that their argument rests almost entirely on the specific harm they say would attend disclosure of the information on the R-71 petition, or on similarly controversial ones,” Roberts writes.

Roberts says the court must reject this broad challenge to all disclosure laws, but says this ruling doesn’t necessarily “foreclose a litigant’s success” in a narrower challenge before the district court. The chief justice recalls how the court previously determined withholding names may be appropriate in some instances with “reasonable probability” that individuals would be harassed.

In a statement, Anne Levinson, chair of Washington Families Standing Together, which fought to maintain the state’s domestic partnership law, praised the high court’s decision.

She said the Supreme Court made clear that public disclosure laws ensure “measures are not put on the ballot by fraudulent means or mistake.”

“Nowhere is the integrity and transparency of elections more important than where the ballot box is being used in an attempt to take away fundamental rights,” she said. “Nowhere is it more important for the public to know that attempts to affect the lives of their fellow citizens by promoting ballot measures are free from fraud and error.”

But Larry Stickney, president of the Washington Values Alliance, said he’s “optimistic” anti-gay activists will be able to keep the petition names secret following action from the district court.

“Likely we’re going to be back in district court and we’ll be able to bring out some of the harassment and intimidation efforts that were made against Protect Marriage Washington,” he said. “We’re happy that that effort will carry on.”

Levinson dismissed the idea that people working on the campaign to overturn the domestic partner registry faced harassment and said there’s “absolutely no evidence of harassment” of signers.

“What the petitioners cite to by way of threats or other harassment, they talk about their campaign manager or other leadership in their campaign,” she said. “Those are the folks like me who were debating on TV or radio or leading a campaign effort, so that’s irrelevant to making any case about petition signers.”

Jon Davidson, legal director for Lambda Legal, said he didn’t think plaintiffs had a shot keeping the names of petitions signers under wraps in light of the “reasonable probability” standard the Supreme Court established.

“I think they are very unlikely to have any success because the standard that the Supreme Court imposed here is — in a particular case — you can only prevent disclosure if you can show a reasonable probability that disclosure will subject to threats, harassment or reprisal,” he said. “So not the possibility — not that it could happen — but a reasonable probability that it will happen.”

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U.S. Supreme Court

U.S. Supreme Court ruling allows Biden administration to end MPP

Trump-era policy placed LGBTQ asylum seekers at increased risk

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday in a 5-4 ruling said the Biden administration can end a policy that forced asylum seekers to pursue their cases in Mexico.

The previous White House’s Migrant Protection Protocols program, which became known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy, took effect in 2019.

The Biden administration suspended MPP enrollment shortly after it took office in January 2021. The program was to have ended six months later, but a federal judge in Texas ordered MPP’s reinstatement after the state and Missouri filed suit against the Biden administration.

Thursday’s ruling sends the Texas and Missouri case back to lower courts.

“As Secretary Mayorkas concluded in October 2021 after a thorough review, the prior administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) has endemic flaws, imposes unjustifiable human costs and pulls resources and personnel away from other priority efforts to secure our border,” said the Department of Homeland Security in a statement. “We welcome the Supreme Court’s decision affirming that the Secretary has the discretionary authority to terminate the program, and we will continue our efforts to terminate the program as soon as legally permissible.” 

U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) also welcomed the ruling.

“Today’s Supreme Court decision correctly acknowledges the Biden administration’s authority to end the unlawful and cruel ‘Remain in Mexico’ program,” he said in a statement. “For more than three years, this horrifying policy has denied asylum seekers their right to due process and subjected them to crimes like rape, kidnapping and torture in northern Mexican border cities while they await their court hearings.”

Advocates sharply criticized MPP, in part, because it made LGBTQ and intersex asylum seekers who were forced to live in Tijuana, Ciudad Juárez, Reynosa, Matamoros and other Mexican border cities even more vulnerable to violence and persecution based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

[email protected] Coalition President Bamby Salcedo on Thursday told the Washington Blade the Supreme Court ruling “will certainly impact our community in a positive way.”

“We know that people who have to remain in Mexico to wait continue to be victims of violence,” said Salcedo. “This is definitely a step in the right direction and we’re grateful that this happened in this way.”

Emilio Vicente, communications and policy director of Familia: TQLM, an organization that advocates on behalf of transgender and gender non-conforming immigrants, echoed Salcedo.

“We’re glad to finally have some good news from the Supreme Court after horrible rulings on abortions, climate change, Native American rights,” said Vicente. “Ending ‘Remain in Mexico’ will allow LGBTQ+ asylum seekers who face increased discrimination and abuse during the journey to the U.S., to be able to seek asylum here.” 

Abdiel Echevarría-Cabán is a South Texas-based immigration attorney and human rights law and policy expert who the LGBTQ+ Bar in 2021 recognized as one of its 40 best LGBTQ lawyers who are under 40.

He told the Blade on Thursday the Supreme Court ruling is “a victory we must celebrate.” Echevarría-Cabán also said MPP placed LGBTQ and intersex asylum seekers at increased risk. 

“Refugees in general, but especially LGBT refugees, are extremely vulnerable to other type of harms such as kidnappings by cartel members, extortion, physical and psychological abuses from Mexican law enforcement authorities and third parties given the high levels of discrimination for LGBT refugees in Mexico,” said Echevarría-Cabán.

The Supreme Court issued its ruling a day after the Justice Department filed charges against four people in connection with the deaths of 53 migrants who were found in the back of a tractor trailer truck in San Antonio.

The Biden administration in April announced its plans to terminate Title 42, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rule that closed the Southern border to most asylum seekers and migrants because of the pandemic. Title 42 was to have ended on May 23, but a federal judge ruled against the White House.

“This decision isn’t the end of the fight for ensuring that people seeking asylum get asylum but it’s an important step in protecting vulnerable people,” Vicente told the Blade after Thursday’s ruling. “President Biden must follow through on his commitment to end MPP and protect all asylum seekers.”

Salcedo noted to the Blade the “system, as it is, particularly when it comes to trans women, needs to be completely changed so that we can be at a better place as a community.” Padilla in his statement urged the Biden administration “to do everything in its power to swiftly end ‘Remain in Mexico’ once and for all.”

“Misguided and inhumane Trump-era policies like ‘Remain in Mexico’ and Title 42 have only decimated an already broken immigration system,” he said. “We must keep working to restore the lawful processing of asylum seekers at the border, in keeping with America’s most deeply held values as a nation of immigrants.”

The Department of Homeland Security in its statement notes Title 42 remains in place.

“The department also continues to enforce our immigration laws at the border and administer consequences for those who enter unlawfully, and will continue the court-mandated enforcement of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Title 42 public health order,” it reads.

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Kamala Harris hosts Pride month reception

Upwards of 200 people attended Naval Observatory event

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Vice President Kamala Harris hosted about 200 guests for Pride Month celebration at her official residence on June 28, 2022. She spoke at the Capital Pride festival in D.C. earlier in the month. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Vice President Kamala Harris helped bring Pride Month to a close Tuesday at her residence with a celebration for high-profile members of the LGBTQ community, recognizing successes achieved but also urging continued movement.

“When we celebrate Pride, it’s because we understand not only the strength of what we have accomplished, and the fight for equality, but we [also] understand the fragility of these gains, and so we know what we must do to be vigilant and maintain [those rights],” Harris said.

The Advocate reported in coverage of the event the Pride celebration was the first ever to take place at the vice president’s residence, but that’s incorrect.

President Biden as vice president hosted a Pride event with LGBTQ leaders in 2014. Harris also said during the event her understanding was it was a first for a sitting vice president.

An estimated 200 attendees were present for the event at the Naval Observatory in D.C., which serves as the vice president’s official residence. Guests at the party mingled by the pool and partook of drinks served on a spinning wheel placed just outside.

High-profile officials from the Biden administration who were present included Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. Neither delivered remarks. Also at the event was “RuPaul’s Drag Race” star Shangela, who addressed the crowd.

Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, who were among in plaintiffs in the litigation against California’s Proposition 8, were also present at the event. Harris married the couple in 2013 as soon as the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling restoring marriage equality to the state.

Perry and Stier spoke before the crowd and urged them to continue to stand strong in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s recent decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

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U.S. Supreme Court

Ketanji Brown Jackson sworn in as first Black woman Supreme Court justice

Roe v. Wade struck down last Friday

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Ketanji Brown Jackson was sworn in Thursday as the newest member of the U.S. Supreme Court, representing a welcome change on the bench for progressives who are still outraged after the decision last week overturning the right to abortion found in Roe v. Wade.

Jackson, who’s now the first Black woman to serve on the high court, has replaced Justice Stephen Breyer, a Clinton appointee who is retiring upon the end of the Supreme Court’s term. Breyer announced his forthcoming departure months ago as progressives urged him to stop to ensure a replacement appointed a Democratic president and confirmed by a Democratic Senate.

The briefing swearing-in was conducted by Chief Justice John Roberts, who administered the oath of office for Brown before a small gathering of Jackson’s family, including her two daughters, according to a report in the New York Times.

GLAAD CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said in a statement the beginning of Jackson’s tenure on the Supreme Court “will bring long-needed representation to the Supreme Court at a critical juncture in our nation’s history, and after the court’s disastrous term dismantling personal liberty.”

“It bears repeating the obvious that women, people of color and LGBTQ people are Americans deserving of equal protection under law,” Ellis said. “Justice Jackson will be a visible and inspiring presence on a court currently dominated by extremists, reminding all that America should always be moving forward to expand freedom.”

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