April 22, 2019 at 2:56 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Pelosi: Supreme Court review to have ‘no impact’ on Equality Act, floor vote in May
A spokesperson for Nancy Pelosi said the Supreme Court will have “no impact” on the Equality Act. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to review whether existing federal law prohibits anti-LGBT discrimination will have “no impact” on the advancement of legislation seeking to ban it explicitly under federal law, a spokesperson for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Monday.

Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesperson, said via email in response to an inquiry from the Washington Blade the Supreme Court decision will have “no impact” on the legislative process for the Equality Act, which he said is set for floor vote in the U.S. House in May.

“I would just make the point that House passage sends a strong message to SCOTUS,” Hammill said. 

Introduced by Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I. and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), the Equality Act would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fair Housing Act to ban anti-LGBT discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, jury service, education, federal programs and credit.

The bill also seeks to update federal law to include sex in the list of protected classes in public accommodation in addition to expanding the definition of public accommodations to include retail stores, banks, transportation services and health care services. Further, the Equality Act would establish that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act — a 1994 law aimed at protecting religious liberty — can’t be used to enable anti-LGBT discrimination.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has granted certiorari for three petitions seeking clarification on whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars discrimination on the basis of sex in employment, applies to cases of anti-LGBT discrimination.

Although the ruling on its face will determine whether anti-LGBT discrimination is prohibited under employment non-discrimination law, it will also impact other non-discrimination laws that bar discrimination on the basis of sex, such as the Fair Housing Act and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. (No federal law, however, bars discrimination on the basis of sex in public accommodations.)

As such, a favorable ruling from the Supreme Court for LGBT workers would affirm non-discrimination protections for LGBT people in many aspects of civil rights law, but only the Equality Act would affirm non-discrimination protections for LGBT people with respect to public accommodations.

Conversely, a ruling from the Supreme Court rejecting LGBT protections under Title VII would mean no federal protections exist, making the Equality Act necessary for any LGBT protections under federal law.

The Supreme Court is unlikely to issue a ruling on Title VII until the end of its next term in June 2020. If the House approves the Equality Act (which is almost certain given the Democratic majority and number of co-sponsors to the bill), the legislation could in theory become law as at sooner time, but that’s unlikely with Republicans in control of the Senate and President Trump in the White House.


Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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