In a milestone LGBTQ rights ruling, second perhaps only to 2015’s legalization of gay marriage, the Supreme Court ruled that the Civil Rights Act’s Title VII protects queer and transgender Americans from being fired for their gender or sexuality.
Title VII declares it is "unlawful" for an employer "to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual" due to "such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin."
The Supreme Court ruling sets precedent for future Civil Rights Act protections for LGBTQ Americans. Bostock v. Clayton County also paves the way for expanded lower court rulings in favor of transgender rights.
The 6-3 majority opinion comes as a surprise to many judicial watchdogs, given both Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Neil Gorsuch voted in the majority.
Gorsuch delivered the opinion of the Court, declaring that Bostock v. Clayton County led judges to "decide whether an employer can fire someone simply for being homosexual or transgender."
"The answer is clear. An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids," Gorsuch ruled. "[T]he limits of the [Civil Rights Act] drafters’ imagination supply no reason to ignore the law’s demands. When the express terms of a statute give us one answer and extratextual considerations suggest another, it’s no contest. Only the written word is the law, and all persons are entitled to its benefit."
The Court further ruled that judges "are not free to overlook plain statutory commands on the strength of nothing more than suppositions about intentions or guesswork about expectations," affirming that "an employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law."
Granted, Gorsuch did note that the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act may "[displace] the normal operation of other federal laws," leaving the door open for how "these doctrines protecting religious liberty interact with Title VII" in "future cases."
"So while other employers in other cases may raise free exercise arguments that merit careful consideration, none of the employers before us today represent in this Court that compliance with Title VII will infringe their own religious liberties in any way," Gorsuch wrote.
Gorsuch's ruling has earned harsh criticism from some conservatives.
President Carrie Severino of the conservative Judicial Crisis Network targeted Gorsuch in a tweet Monday morning. "Justice Scalia would be disappointed that his successor has bungled textualism so badly today, for the sake of appealing to college campuses and editorial boards. This was not judging, this was legislating—a brute force attack on our constitutional system," she wrote.
In response, New Yorker's Jane Mayer quipped "Judicial Crisis Network is having a judicial crisis!"
This story has been updated.