July 1, 2020 at 5:20 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Harris, Murray urge DOJ to drop anti-trans memo after Supreme Court ruling
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Colo.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) are urging the Justice Department to drop an anti-trans memo. (Photos public domain)

Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) are leading a new effort calling on U.S. Attorney General William Barr to rescind a memo against protecting transgender people in the workforce in the wake of the recent landmark Supreme Court decision prohibiting anti-LGBTQ discrimination.

In a joint letter dated June 30, the 27 Senate Democrats who signed the letter write the 2017 memo signed by former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions “misstates the law, poses an ongoing threat to the well-being of transgender workers and invites liability for employers that misguidedly rely upon it.”

“In light of the landmark Bostock decision, there can remain no justification for leaving in place an enforcement policy that flatly contradicts Supreme Court precedent,” the letter says. “Accordingly, we call on you to rescind the Sessions memorandum immediately.”

In 2017, Sessions issued a memo declaring the Justice Department won’t enforce Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in cases of anti-transgender discrimination in the workforce, reversing an Obama-era memo from former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder assuring protections for transgender people.

At the time, Sessions was defying the determination from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that transgender people are protected under Title VII, as well as strong legal precedent from five federal appeals courts. Now that the Supreme Court has confirmed anti-LGBTQ discrimination is prohibited under Title VII in Bostock v. Clayton County, there’s no doubt the law is trans-inclusive.

“The Sessions memorandum is now at odds with controlling Supreme Court precedent,” the letter says. “The department’s current position therefore misstates the law, poses an ongoing threat to the well-being of transgender workers, and invites liability for employers that misguidedly rely upon it. The Supreme Court’s Bostock decision compels DOJ to rescind the Sessions memorandum and we urge you to abandon it immediately.”

The Senate Democrats also draw on the unemployment rate during the coronavirus crisis and challenges transgender people face in the workplace as reason for withdrawal of the Sessions memo.

“Before the widespread unemployment of the past six months, the unemployment rate for transgender people was an estimated 15 percent — a rate three times higher than the rest of the U.S. population, which suggests that many transgender applicants are refused a job because of their gender identity or expression,” the letter says.

Further, the letter raises complaints about a previous request from Harris and Murray to document each of the legal cases of anti-trans discrimination the Justice Department abandoned after the Sessions memo. The Justice Department never responded to that request, the letter says.

Harris is widely considered a top contender for Joe Biden’s running mate.

The Justice Department didn’t immediately respond to the Washington Blade’s request to comment on the letter regarding the Title VII memo.

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

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