Things That Matter

Supreme Court Rules LGBTQ+ People Protected From Workplace Discrimination

The Supreme Court has ruled that companies cannot fire people for being part of the LGBTQ+ community. Before the ruling, it was still legal for employers to fire people for being part of the LGBTQ+ community. This is a major victory for LGBTQ+ Americans and a major loss for the Trump administration.

The Supreme Court of the United States ruled in favor of LGBTQ+ employees.

In a 6-3 ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that the LGBTQ+ community is protected by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Members of the LGBTQ+ community are protected from discriminatory firings and treatment for their sexual orientation or gender identity. The court’s decision states that the LGBTQ+ community is protected under Title VII of the act.

“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,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in the decision. “It is impossible to discriminate against a person for being homosexual or transgender without discriminating against that individual based on sex.”

The decision was 6-3 in favor of protecting LGBTQ+ employees.

Conservative justice Clarence Thomas, Brett Kavanaugh, and Samuel A. Alito Jr all voted against protecting LGBTQ+ protections in the workplace. Justices John Roberts, Neil Gorsuch, Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, and Stephen Breyer voted that the language of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does include LGBTQ+ people.

“There is only one word for what the court has done today: legislation. The document that the court releases is in the form of a judicial opinion interpreting a statute, but that is deceptive,” Alito wrote in the dissent. “A more brazen abuse of our authority to interpret statutes is hard to recall. The court tries to convince readers that it is merely enforcing the terms of the statute, but that is preposterous.”

The ruling protects millions of LGBTQ+ workers in states that offered no protection.

Before the ruling, employees in several states faced a constant threat of termination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The fear was greater for transgender people who had protections in fewer states than gay and lesbian workers. Justice Gorsuch did state the scope of the ruling.

“We do not purport to address bathrooms, locker rooms or anything else of the kind,” Justice Gorsuch wrote. “Whether other policies and practices might or might not qualify as unlawful discrimination or find justifications under other provisions of Title VII are questions for future cases, not these.”

The decision comes on a day that they also decided not to hear arguments in a case of qualified immunity for police.

It requires four justices to agree to allow for a case to be heard by the justices. Justice Thoms dissented the decision not to take up the case. The conservative justice claims that “qualified immunity doctrine appears to stray from the statutory text.”

Advocates want to see the qualified immunity doctrine to be revised. The doctrine currently makes it easy for lower courts to dismiss cases against police officers. Growing protests in the U.S. demanding a change in police reform after the death of George Floyd.

READ: Supreme Court Refuses Case Challenging California’s Sanctuary State Status

Notice any needed corrections? Please email us at corrections@wearemitu.com

The Significance Behind Today’s Google Doodle of Puerto Rican Activist Felicitas Mendez

Things That Matter

The Significance Behind Today’s Google Doodle of Puerto Rican Activist Felicitas Mendez

Today’s Google Doodle is an eye catching image: an illustration of a smiling brown-skinned woman. She watches children of all colors go into a sun-drenched school, palm trees lining the walkways. A man in a suit escorts two of the brown-skinned children into the building.

The Doodle is of Puerto Rican activist Felicitas Mendez, a woman instrumental in the fight against school segregation between whites and Latinos in the 1940s.

Born in the town of Juncos in Puerto Rico, Mendez moved to the mainland United States when she was 10-years-old. It was here that she experienced her first taste of American racism and inequality.

Because of their mixed-race Puerto Rican heritage, Mendez (née Gómez) and her family were racialized as “Black” by white Americans, and therefore subject to anti-Black discrimination. But when her and her family moved to Southern California to work the fields, she was racialized as “Mexican” and discriminated against by anti-Hispanic racists.

Felicitas Mendez and her husband, Gonzalo Mendez, were the key figures behind the landmark anti-segregation case, Mendez vs. Westminster.

Mendez vs. Westminster was a California civil rights desegregation case which successfully ended the segregation between Latino and white students in the state of California.

As the story goes, the Mendez family moved from the integrated town of Santa Ana, California to Westminster, California, where they were shocked to discover the students were divided into “white” and “Mexican” schools. Since the doctrine of “separate but equal” schooling was a myth, Mexican schools received far less government funding and gave inferior education.

The school for Mexican students was so bad, that Mendez’s daughter Sylvia (an activist in her own right) later described it as a pair of wooden shacks on a dirt lot, surrounded by an electric fence.

school segregation
via Getty Images

Instead of going along with Westminster school district’s policy of segregation, Felicitas Mendez and her husband decided instead to challenge their policy.

In 1945, on behalf of roughly 5,000 Hispanic-American school-aged students, Mendez and her husband filed a lawsuit against Westminster School District of Orange County. And they ended up winning.

The Westminster school-board appealed, but to no avail. In 1947, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s ruling in favor of the Mendezes.

This lawsuit, Mendez v. Westminster, would eventually become the spark that ignited the larger fight against school segregation throughout the nation. Shortly after the win, then-California Governor Earl Warren ordered all California public schools other public spaces to desegregate as well.

Mendez’s experience as being labeled as both Black and Mexican at various points in her life made her an active anti-racist, sensitive to the plight of people and children of all colors.

“We had to do it. Our children, all of our children, brown, black,
and white, must have the opportunity to be whatever they want to be, and education gives them that opportunity,” she said in a 1998 interview.

As today’s Google Doodle illustrator Emily Barrera says: “When I see Felicitas, I see a strong woman, a fighter, a mother, a pioneer in the Civil Rights movement, fighting for the same rights as her own family and heritage.” And that is what she was. A brave activist, yes. A fighter, yes. But above all, a loving mother who wanted a better future for her children.

Notice any needed corrections? Please email us at corrections@wearemitu.com

The Supreme Court Issued A Landmark Decision Confirming That Almost Half Of Oklahoma Is Native American Land

Things That Matter

The Supreme Court Issued A Landmark Decision Confirming That Almost Half Of Oklahoma Is Native American Land

Andrew Caballero-Reynolds / Getty Images

The 2020 Supreme Court season will be one for the record books, as the court handed down several major decisions that impacted the lives of millions of Americans.

From outlawing discrimination in the workplace against LGBTQ people to allowing religious employers to deny insurance coverage of contraceptives, it’s been a very consequential Supreme Court season. Now, the court has handed down one of the most important decisions affecting Native American tribes in generations.

The Supreme Court says that the eastern half of Oklahoma is Native American land.

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a major ruling that declared a huge swath of Oklahoma as Native American land for certain legal purposes. The ruling affects about half the state and will have major consequences for both past and future criminal and civil cases.

The court’s decision hinged on the question of whether the Creek reservation continued to exist after Oklahoma became a state.

“Today we are asked whether the land these treaties promised remains an Indian reservation for purposes of fed­eral criminal law. Because Congress has not said otherwise, we hold the government to its word,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in the majority opinion.

The decision was 5-4, with Justices Gorsuch, Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer in the majority, while Justices John Roberts, Brett Kavanaugh, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas dissented

The decision means that only federal authorities, no longer state prosecutors, can lodge charges against Native Americans who commit serious alleged crimes on that land, which is home to 1.8 million people. Of those people, 15% or fewer are Native Americans.

Ruling that these lands are in fact reservations doesn’t mean the tribe owns all the land within the reservation, just like the county doesn’t own all the land within the county. In fact, it probably doesn’t own very much of that land, according to several legal experts.

The ruling will have significant legal implications for eastern Oklahoma.

Credit: Brendan Smialowski / Getty Images

There will be several implications based on the Supreme Court’s decision. First of all, certain major crimes committed within the boundaries of reservations must be prosecuted in federal courts rather than by state courts, if a Native American tribe member is involved.

For example, if a Native American is accused of a major crime in downtown Tulsa, the federal government rather than the state government will prosecute it. Less serious crimes involving Native Americans on American Indian land will be handled in tribal courts. This arrangement is already common in Western states like Arizona, New Mexico and Montana.

The ruling will also affect past decisions – many of which are now considered wrongful conditions because the state lacked jurisdiction. A number of criminal defendants who have been convicted in the past will now have grounds to challenge their convictions, arguing that the state never had jurisdiction to try them.

The decision is a major win for Native Americans, but so much more work needs to be done.

“The Supreme Court today kept the United States’ sacred promise to the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of a protected reservation,” the tribe said in a statement. “Today’s decision will allow the Nation to honor our ancestors by maintaining our established sovereignty and territorial boundaries.”

The same day that the court issued its landmark Oklahoma decision, a federal judge also ordered that oil must stop flowing through the Dakota Access Pipeline, which runs from North Dakota to Illinois. The deadline is August 5.

Of course, these are major legal victories. But taken together, they only highlight the ongoing legal issues and discrimination that Native American tribes face. To realize a complete vision of Indigenous sovereignty and environmental justice takes people power — the kind that energized the 2016 Standing Rock protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline but that in fact goes back much further.

In 2007, the International Indian Treaty Council, alongside other international Indigenous organizations, helped draft the U.N. Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Although imperfect — declarations are, after all, aspirational and nonbinding — the declaration provides a universal mechanism for free, prior and informed consent with Indigenous nations over the decision-making process of development projects.

A major win for Native American tribes in the United States would hinge on Indigenous authority over lands that they control and landscapes that they have historic and cultural ties to.

Notice any needed corrections? Please email us at corrections@wearemitu.com