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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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Texas

Abbott tells UN to ‘pound sand’ amid criticism of anti-LGBTQ policies in Texas

Governor signed seven anti-LGBTQ laws last year

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Texas Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signs the “Save Women’s Sports Act” on Aug. 7, 2023. (Photo courtesy of the Office of the Governor)

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) on Sunday dismissed news coverage of a letter issued last month to the United Nations that expressed alarm over the “deteriorating human rights situation” for LGBTQ people in the Lone Star State.

Signed by Equality Texas, ACLU of Texas, GLAAD, the Human Rights Campaign, and the University of Texas at Austin School of Law Human Rights Clinic, the letter details how Texas legislators introduced 141 bills targeting the LGBTQ community, passing seven into law.

“The UN can go pound sand,” Abbott wrote in a post on X.

In 2023, the governor signed a ban on gender affirming care for transgender youth, a ban on diversity, equity, and inclusion programs at public universities, a ban on transgender athletes competing in college sports, a law allowing schools to use religious chaplains for counseling services, a ban on “sexually oriented performances” on public property accessible to minors (which targets drag shows), a law allowing schools to restrict LGBTQ books, and a ban on nondiscrimination ordinances by local governments.

The groups argued in their letter that these policies constitute a “systemic discriminatory policy” in violation of international human rights laws, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a multilateral treaty whose tenets are enforced by the UN Human Rights Committee.

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National

WATCH: Washington Post grills transphobic Libs of TikTok creator

Chaya Raichik reaffirmed anti-trans views

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Chaya Raichik, founder of Libs of TikTok is interviewed by Washington Post journalist Taylor Lorenz.in California. (Screenshot/YouTube The Washington Post)

Grilled on a range of topics during an interview with Washington Post journalist Taylor Lorenz, Chaya Raichik, spoke about the great replacement theory, the death of Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old nonbinary in high school student in Oklahoma, why she won’t delete her false accusations about the Uvalde shooter and other mass-shooters, her views on gender, feminism and more.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Guilty verdict in first federal murder trial based on gender identity

Dime Doe killed in S.C. in 2019

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Dime Doe (Family photo)

A federal jury on Friday handed down a guilty verdict of a man accused of murdering a Black transgender woman in what is classified as the first in the nation federal trial over a hate crime based on gender identity.

After a 4-day trial in a federal hate crime case, a jury found a South Carolina man, Daqua Lameek Ritter, guilty of all charges in the indictment, which included one hate crime count, one federal firearms count and one obstruction count, all arising out of the murder of Dime Doe.

“Acts of violence against LGBTQI+ people, including transgender women of color like Dime Doe, are on the rise and have no place in our society,” said Acting Associate Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer. “The Justice Department takes seriously all bias-motivated acts of violence and will not hesitate to hold accountable those who commit them. No one should have to live in fear of deadly violence because of who they are.”

According to court documents and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, evidence presented at trial showed that Ritter was upset that rumors about his sexual relationship with Dime Doe were out in the community. On Aug. 4, 2019, the defendant lured Doe to a remote area in Allendale, S.C., and shot her three times in the head. At trial, the government proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Ritter murdered Doe because of her gender identity. Ritter then burned the clothes he was wearing during the crime, disposed of the murder weapon and repeatedly lied to law enforcement. 

This was the first trial under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act for violence against a trans person. The Shepard-Byrd Act is a landmark federal statute passed in 2009 which allows federal criminal prosecution of hate crimes motivated by the victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

“A unanimous jury has found the defendant guilty for the heinous and tragic murder of Dime Doe, a Black transgender woman,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The jury’s verdict sends a clear message: Black trans lives matter, bias-motivated violence will not be tolerated and perpetrators of hate crimes will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. This case is historic; this defendant is the first to be found guilty by trial verdict for a hate crime motivated by gender identify under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. We want the Black trans community to know that you are seen and heard, that we stand with the LGBTQI+ community and that we will use every tool available to seek justice for victims and their families.”

Ritter faces a maximum penalty of life in prison. A sentencing hearing will be scheduled at a later date. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering federal sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors.

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