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SCOTUS Round-Up: June 2020

The U.S. Supreme Court issued two surprising but very welcome civil rights decisions last week. As widely reported, in a 5-4 decision, with the a majority opinion by Chief Justice Roberts, the Supreme Court rejected the Trump administration’s bungled attempt to dismantle the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy. The much-anticipated decision provides temporary relief to the hundreds of thousands of young beneficiaries of DACA, including many college and university students. Documents referenced by the Court show that the majority of immigrants covered by DACA are Latinos - close to ninety percent of the DACA recipients are Latina/o, with the top four sending countries Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. 

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security had announced in September 2017, as part of the Trump administration’s new and expanded immigration enforcement policy that it would “no longer exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement,” and that DACA would be rescinded. The Supreme Court initially found that the Department of Homeland Security’s decision to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy is judicially reviewable rejecting the Trump administration’s claim of unfettered executive discretion to administratively rescind the program. And ultimately, the Supreme Court held that the Trump administration’s effort to rescind DACA, without, among other things, considering the interests of the DACA recipients’ reliance on the policy, was arbitrary and capricious in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act. President Trump and his administration have already indicated they will attempt anew to rescind DACA in compliance with the administrative requirements of the APA.

A troubling part of Chief Justice Roberts majority opinion that was not widely reported on in which he dismissed the plausibility of the discriminatory purpose of the Trump Administration’s rescission of DACA, and found that President Trump’s “critical statements about Latinos” as “remote in time and made in unrelated contexts.” Justice Sotomayor in her explanation for not joining in Part IV of the majority opinion addressing the Equal Protection analysis, concluded that “[t]aken together, ‘the words of . . . President [Trump]’ help to ‘create the strong perception’ that the rescission decision was ‘contaminated by impermissible discriminatory animus.’” She also elaborated that the “the plurality minimizes the disproportionate impact of the rescission decision on Latinos after considering this point in isolation.” She cautioned: “But the impact of the policy decision must be viewed in the context of the President’s public statements on and off the campaign trail.”  Justice Sotomayor aptly criticized Roberts dismissal of these claims as “unwarranted on the existing record and premature at this stage of the litigation.”

José Pérez, Deputy General Counsel at LatinoJustice PRLDEF stated: “While the Court’s decision is good news, it does not mean that the fight has been won, or that the battle is far from over. Congress still needs to do their job, put aside partisan differences, and immediately act and pass the DREAM Act and other necessary comprehensive humane immigration reform so immigrants can stop living in fear and come out of the shadows. The 700,000-plus Dreamers and other immigrants who have received deferred status deserve the opportunity to continue contributing to our country as so many health care first responders have so ably demonstrated during the current COVID pandemic.”

Please see Penn State Law Center for Immigrants' Rights Law Clinic Fact Sheet on the DACA decision.

On Monday June 15th, the Supreme Court in a majority opinion by Justice Gorsuch in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, consolidated with Zarda v. Altitude Express, Inc., and R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that the prohibition in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1), against employment discrimination “because of . . . sex” also encompasses discrimination based on an individual’s sexual orientation and prohibits discrimination against transgender people based on their status as transgender. This is a huge victory for LGBTTQI+ individuals as it rightfully extends federal protections to LGBTTQI+ workers who have been increasingly targeted for exclusion from many federal civil rights protection by the Trump administration.

Gallup reports show that 6.1% of Hispanics identify as LGBT, and that people of color comprise 42% of all LGBT-identified adults. Today, there are nearly two million LGBTQ people of color in America’s workforce who are far more likely to suffer discrimination than their white counterparts. 

“All of us who hold jobs know that a fair, safe and dignified environment is critical for our well-being inasmuch as we spend so many hours at work,” said Juan Cartagena, President & General Counsel, LatinoJustice PRLDEF. “This decision by the Supreme Court reaffirms that workplace discrimination is a significant problem in our country and it finally expands the law’s protection to our LGBTQ familia. Now is the time to eliminate this pernicious discrimination in other aspects of society.”


Written with research assistance provided by LatinoJustice Summer Legal Interns Cesar Ruiz, CUNY School of Law Class of 2021 (Bostock Title VII decision) and Abigael Monahan Negron, Pace University Elizabeth Haub School of Law Class of 2022.