Many progressive activists and their media allies, in cheering the Supreme Court’s ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, suggest that the decision is great and good because ending anti-LGBT employment discrimination is great and good. There is an absence of qualms about the fact that the Supreme Court is not meant to be a super-legislature, overriding Congress when that body fails to do what’s right. Ultimately, that’s not a good thing for our nation.
As I noted previously, a ruling extending the Civil Rights Act to LGBT Americans is preferable to passing the awful Equality Act, which would gut the religious freedom protections in the bipartisan Religious Freedom Restoration Act, although the Fairness for All Act would strike a better balance. That said, I tend to agree with the dissents to the ruling.
While Justice Alito goes overboard in his hostility to the majority’s legal analysis, he is correct in his central point:
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination on any of five specified grounds: “race, color, religion, sex, [and] national origin.” 42 U. S. C. §2000e–2(a)(1). Neither “sexual orientation” nor “gender identity” appears on that list. For the past 45 years, bills have been introduced in Congress to add “sexual orientation” to the list, and in recent years, bills have included “gender identity” as well. But to date, none has passed both Houses.
Last year, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would amend Title VII by defining sex discrimination to include both “sexual orientation” and “gender identity,” H. R. 5, 116th Cong., 1st Sess. (2019), but the bill has stalled in the Senate. An alternative bill, H. R. 5331, 116th Cong., 1st Sess. (2019), would add similar prohibitions but contains provisions to protect religious liberty. This bill remains before a House Subcommittee.
Because no such amendment of Title VII has been enacted in accordance with the requirements in the Constitution (passage in both Houses and presentment to the President, Art. I, §7, cl. 2), Title VII’s prohibition of discrimination because of “sex” still means what it has always meant.
Justice Kavanaugh makes a similar argument but acknowledges some important realities:
The policy arguments for amending Title VII are very weighty. The Court has previously stated, and I fully agree, that gay and lesbian Americans “cannot be treated as social outcasts or as inferior in dignity and worth.” Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Comm’n, 584 U. S. ___, ___ (2018) (slip op., at 9).
But we are judges, not Members of Congress. And in Alexander Hamilton’s words, federal judges exercise “neither Force nor Will, but merely judgment.” The Federalist No. 78, p. 523 (J. Cooke ed. 1961). Under the Constitution’s separation of powers, our role as judges is to interpret and follow the law as written, regardless of whether we like the result. Cf. Texas v. Johnson, 491 U. S. 397, 420–421 (1989) (Kennedy, J., concurring). Our role is not to make or amend the law. …
Notwithstanding my concern about the Court’s transgression of the Constitution’s separation of powers, it is appropriate to acknowledge the important victory achieved today by gay and lesbian Americans. Millions of gay and lesbian Americans have worked hard for many decades to achieve equal treatment in fact and in law. They have exhibited extraordinary vision, tenacity, and grit—battling often steep odds in the legislative and judicial arenas, not to mention in their daily lives. They have advanced powerful policy arguments and can take pride in today’s result. Under the Constitution’s separation of powers, however, I believe that it was Congress’s role, not this Court’s, to amend Title VII. I therefore must respectfully dissent from the Court’s judgement.
Walter Olson noted in his commentary:
As a policy matter, extending anti‐discrimination law further into private employment decisions invades further the realm of private choice and individual liberty. As Alito notes in his dissent, it is especially hazardous to do so without the sort of conscious legislative back‐and‐forth that might result in the negotiation of thresholds and exemptions so as to handle controversial or burdensome cases. In the longer run, when Congress revisits this area in legislation, it will have a chance to rethink these points.
However, when “Congress revisits this area” it is likely to be with Democratic Party majorities that will remove any “thresholds and exemptions” that acknowledge historic rights of religious dissent from the majority.