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U.S. Federal Courts

Draft of Supreme Court opinion that overturns Roe leaked

LGBTQ activists, allies condemned reported decision

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Protesters gather outside of the United States Supreme Court on May 3. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

In a stunning revelation published Monday evening in Politico, an initial draft majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito disclosed that the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to strike down the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

According to Politico’s reporting; “The draft opinion is a full-throated, unflinching repudiation of the 1973 decision which guaranteed federal constitutional protections of abortion rights and a subsequent 1992 decision — Planned Parenthood v. Casey — that largely maintained the right. ‘Roe was egregiously wrong from the start,'” Alito writes.

The unprecedented disclosure marks the first time in the modern history of the court that an opinion has leaked while a case is still pending. If issued, the ruling would pave the way for a majority of states to criminalize abortion — a devastating reality for millions of American women and transgender and non-binary people who rely on safe, legal abortion care.

Slate Senior Legal Writer Mark Joseph Stern noted that Alito’s draft opinion explicitly criticizes Lawrence v. Texas (legalizing sodomy) and Obergefell v. Hodges (legalizing same-sex marriage.) He says that, like abortion, these decisions protect phony rights that are not “deeply rooted in history.”

A lawyer contacted by the Washington Blade who asked to speak on background said that the greater issue for the LGBTQ community and Americans in general is that should the court proceed with the draft in present form, which although may seem unlikely, it sends a clear signal that the high court cannot be trusted to protect and preserve the rights of minority citizens.

In the draft Alito writes; “We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled. It is time to heed the constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.” With the current political climate leaning against LGBTQ Americans as evidenced by passage of a litany of anti-trans laws, ‘don’t say gay’ measures, and book bans, “this points to the immediate need to raise the alarm,” the lawyer continued.

Equality California, the nation’s largest statewide LGBTQ civil rights organization released the following statement from Executive Director Tony Hoang in reaction to Politico’s reporting and the draft opinion:

“Abortion is healthcare. Abortion is essential. Abortion is a fundamental human right.

“There is nothing the Supreme Court can do to change that. There is nothing five or six justices can do to stop people from needing and seeking abortion care. What they can do — and what overturning Roe will do — is cost people their lives and livelihoods. Women. Transgender and non-binary people. Our mothers and sisters and friends and neighbors and colleagues.

“Shame on us if we let this stand. We must organize, mobilize and vote like our lives depend on it. Because they do.”

Reaction to the leaked document from politicians and others came swiftly as word spread of the Politico report.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, released a statement saying;

“I am horrified by the apparent draft Supreme Court opinion leaked this evening that would overturn the right to abortion guaranteed by Roe v. Wade. For the sake of women across the country, this should not be the Supreme Court’s final opinion when it comes to abortion rights.

“We have been fighting this battle for too long. I refuse to go backwards. I refuse to let my new granddaughter have to fight for the rights generations have fought for and won, rights that she should be guaranteed.

“For anyone who needs access to care, our state will welcome you with open arms. New York will always be a place where abortion rights are protected and where abortion is safe and accessible. Just as the Statue of Liberty lifts her lamp tall in our harbor, New York will never stop fighting for what’s right — unafraid and undeterred.”

Politico did point out that deliberations on controversial cases have in the past been fluid. Justices can and sometimes do change their votes as draft opinions circulate and major decisions can be subject to multiple drafts and vote-trading, sometimes until just days before a decision is unveiled. The court’s holding will not be final until it is published, likely in the next two months.

The court is expected to rule on the case before its term is up in late June or early July.

The Blade spoke with Shannon Minter, the legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) who said;

“That someone leaked this opinion — violating the court’s most sacrosanct rule of confidentiality — speaks volumes about how extreme and dangerous much of the court’s jurisprudence has become. We don’t know if this will be the final decision, but it is shocking to read this assault on an established fundamental right. A court that would issue an opinion like this — if it does — is a court that has abandoned any pretense of protecting individual freedom.

It would be harder for the court to hold that there is no fundamental right to marry or to sexual privacy, as any such decision would apply to both gay and straight people, but it would be foolhardy to predict how extreme this court may become. LGBTQ people should recognize that we are once again in the crosshairs and that all of our hard-won protections are under serious threat.

We have become too accustomed to counting on the courts for protection, and we must realize the days when we could safely do so are past. Our hope lies in joining forces with others who are fighting to protect democracy and the rule of law and to prevent our country from sliding into the same authoritarianism that is rising across the globe.”  

In Sacramento Monday evening, California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a statement:

“This draft opinion is an appalling attack on the rights of women across this country and if it stands, it will destroy lives and put countless women in danger. It will be the end of fundamental constitutional rights that American women have had for nearly 50 years.

“This is not an isolated incident, and it is not the end. We have a Supreme Court that does not value the rights of women, and a political minority that will stop at nothing to take those rights away. This won’t stop with choice and the right to privacy. They are undermining progress, and erasing the civil protections and rights so many have fought for over the last half century.

“I’m furious that my own daughters and sons could grow up in an America that is less free than the one they were born into. We have to wake up. We have to fight like hell. We will not be silenced.”

California state Sen. Scott Wiener noted; “California unequivocally stands for the right to an abortion, no matter what the right-wing zealots on the Supreme Court say. We will fight hard to expand abortion access, here and in other states.”

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, (D-Wisc.), who is openly lesbian, tweeted her disgust at the leaked draft.

Roe was egregiously wrong from the start. Its reasoning was exceptionally weak, and the decision has had damaging consequences. And far from bringing about a national settlement of the abortion issue, Roe and Casey have enflamed debate and deepened division.”

Justice Samuel Alito in an initial draft majority opinion

Politico received a copy of the draft opinion from a person familiar with the court’s proceedings in the Mississippi case along with other details supporting the authenticity of the document. The draft opinion runs 98 pages, including a 31-page appendix of historical state abortion laws. The document is replete with citations to previous court decisions, books and other authorities, and includes 118 footnotes. The appearances and timing of this draft are consistent with court practice.

Link to full Politico article and the draft document here: https://www.politico.com/news/2022/05/02/supreme-court-abortion-draft-opinion-00029473

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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal judge blocks White House from ending Title 42

Advocacy groups say policy further endangered LGBTQ asylum seekers

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The Mexico-U.S. border in Mexicali, Mexico, on July 22, 2018. A federal judge in Louisiana has blocked the Biden administration from terminating Title 42, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention policy that closed the Southern border to most asylum seekers and migrants because of the pandemic. The previous White House's policy was to have ended on May 23, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rule that closed the Southern border to most asylum seekers and migrants because of the pandemic was to have ended Monday, but it remains in place after a federal judge blocked the Biden administration’s plans to end it.

The White House last month announced it would terminate Title 42, a policy the previous administration implemented in March 2020.

U.S. District Judge Robert Summerhays in Louisiana on May 20 issued a ruling that prevented the Biden administration from terminating the Trump-era policy. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre in a statement announced the Justice Department will appeal the decision, while adding the administration “will continue to enforce the CDC’s 2020 Title 42 public health authority pending the appeal.”

“This means that migrants who attempt to enter the United States unlawfully will be subject to expulsion under Title 42, as well as immigration consequences such as removal under Title 8 (of the U.S. Code),” said Jean-Pierre.

Advocacy groups and members of Congress with whom the Washington Blade has spoken since Title 42 took effect say it continues to place LGBTQ asylum seekers and other vulnerable groups who seek refuge in the U.S. at even more risk.

Oluchi Omeoga, co-director of the Black LGBTQIA+ Migrant Project, last month described Title 42 as a “racist and harmful policy.” ORAM (Organization of Refuge, Asylum and Migration) Executive Director Steve Roth said Title 42 “put asylum seekers in harm’s way in border towns and prevented them from seeking safety in the United States.”

Title 42 was to have ended less than a month after five members of Congress from California visited two LGBTQ shelters for asylum seekers in the Mexican border city of Tijuana.

The Council for Global Equality, which organized the trip, in a tweet after Summerhays issued his ruling described Title 42 as a “catastrophe.”

“The Biden administration cannot breathe a sign of relief until it’s a matter of the past,” said the Council for Global Equality on Saturday. “We remain committed to end Title 42.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal court blocks part of Ala. trans medical treatment law

Trump-appointed judge issued late Friday ruling

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Hugo L. Black United States Courthouse, Birmingham, Alabama (Photo Credit: US Courts/DXR)

In a 32 page ruling released Friday evening, U.S. District Judge Liles Burke preliminarily enjoined the state from enforcing the law criminalizing medical care for transgender minors in Alabama.

The law made it a felony for doctors and licensed healthcare providers to give gender-affirming puberty blockers and hormones to trans minors.

Burke, who was nominated to the bench by former President Trump to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, wrote that the section of the Alabama Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act that makes treatment of trans minor children a felony; “the court finds that there is a substantial likelihood that Section 4(a)(1)–(3) of the act is unconstitutional and, thus, enjoins defendants from enforcing that portion of the act pending trial.”

Burke however ruled that all other provisions of the act remain in effect, specifically: (1) the provision that bans sex-altering surgeries on minors; (2) the provision prohibiting school officials from keeping certain gender-identity information of children secret from their parents; and (3) the provision that prohibits school officials from encouraging or compelling children to keep certain gender-identity information secret from their parents.

The U.S. Justice Department had challenged the state’s Senate Bill 184 — a bill that would criminalize doctors for providing best-practice, gender-affirming care to trans and non-binary youth.

In the filing by the Justice Department, the complaint alleges that the new law’s felony ban on providing certain medically necessary care to transgender minors violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. The department is also asking the court to issue an immediate order to prevent the law from going into effect.

SB 184 makes it a felony for any person to “engage in or cause” specified types of medical care for transgender minors. SB 184 thus discriminates against trans youth by denying them access to certain forms of medically necessary care.

It further discriminates against trans youth by barring them from accessing particular procedures while allowing non-transgender minors to access the same or similar procedures. The penalties for violating the law include up to 10 years of imprisonment and a fine of up to $15,000. SB 184 would force parents of trans minors, medical professionals, and others to choose between forgoing medically necessary procedures and treatments, or facing criminal prosecution.

The Justice Department’s complaint alleges that SB 184 violates the Equal Protection Clause by discriminating on the basis of sex and trans status.

LGBTQ legal rights advocates SPLC, GLAD, NCLR and HRC, joined by co-counsel King and Spalding LLP and Lightfoot, Franklin and White LLC, had previously filed a legal challenge in federal district court against Alabama SB 184.

Shannon Minter, the legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, one of the legal rights advocacy groups who had sued Alabama told the Washington Blade late Friday night:

“We are thrilled by this outcome, which will provide enormous relief to transgender children and their families. As the court recognizes, this is well established medical care that has been endorsed by 22 major medical associations. Thanks to this decision, kids in Alabama can now continue to receive this lifesaving care, and their doctors cannot be prosecuted simply for doing their jobs. This is a huge victory for compassion and common sense and a much needed antidote to the tidal wave of hostile legislation targeting these youth.”

In addition to the Justice Department, the doctors challenging SB 184 in Ladinsky v. Ivey are Dr. Morissa J. Ladinsky and Dr. Hussein D. Abdul-Latif, both providers at the Children’s Hospital of Alabama and members of the medical staff at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital and the teaching staff at UAB School of Medicine. Ladinsky and Abdul-Latif have long-term expertise in caring for trans children of Alabama families. Under SB 184, they both face criminal penalties including up to 10 years in prison if they continue to provide that support to their patients.

The Alabama family plaintiffs are proceeding anonymously to protect their children. They include Robert Roe, and his 13-year-old trans daughter Mary, of Jefferson County; and Jane Doe and her 17-year-old-trans son John, of Shelby County. These families have deep ties to Alabama. If SB 184 is allowed to go into effect both families will be forced to choose between leaving the state, breaking the law, or facing devastating consequences to their children’s health.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal court overturns ruling that demanded asylum seeker prove he’s gay

Peter Udo fled Nigeria

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Courtroom, 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (Photo Credit: Library of Congress/GSA)

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled against an immigration judge’s finding that denied an asylum bid by a Nigerian man who says he is gay.

The court documents filed by Peter Udo asserted a fear of persecution or torture in Nigeria based on his status as a gay man and the harm he suffered after being discovered having sex with his boyfriend in a hotel.

According to Reuters, the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals had affirmed an immigration judge’s ruling that Udo’s asylum bid was frivolous because he deliberately fabricated a key element of his application and failed to establish that he is gay.

Udo initially gave an asylum officer the name of a hotel that did not exist, later saying that he was afraid to identify the actual hotel, according to court filings.

But the location of the hotel is at best ancillary to Udo’s claims, the 9th Circuit said, “and is certainly not a material element.”

Udo fled Nigeria after being beaten and detained by Nigerian authorities filing a claim for political asylum in part based on the 2014 Nigerian law that criminalizes homosexuality, same-sex marriage and same-sex relationships.

The 9th Circuit returned the case Wednesday to the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals to reconsider Udo’s case.

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