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Civil rights groups react to SCOTUS decision weakening Miranda warning

The legal issue central to the Tekoh case, whether the US civil code provides for the right to sue law enforcement for Miranda violations

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Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles

WASHINGTON – Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, leading the court’s conservative majority, issued a 6-3 opinion Thursday morning in the case of Vega v. Tekoh that will shield members of law enforcement from lawsuits over their failure to provide Miranda warnings to suspects in their custody. 

In the hours since, civil rights groups shared statements objecting to the ruling’s weakening of the Miranda rights by its removal of an important means through which citizens can seek recourse when their rights are violated by police and government officials. 

The court’s three Democrats dissented, with Justice Elena Kagan writing “The majority here, as elsewhere, injures the right by denying the remedy.” 

The exact language varies by jurisdiction, but Miranda warnings — named for the 1966 Supreme Court ruling in Miranda v. Arizona — give criminal suspects in police custody notice of the rights to which they are entitled, which include the freedoms to remain silent and to have an attorney present when consenting to questioning by law enforcement. 

In an email to The Los Angeles Blade, attorney and National LGBTQ Task Force Policy Director Liz Seaton wrote, “As police continue to target Black and Brown folx in our racist law enforcement and criminal justice systems, and for anyone who becomes the target of a police investigation, this [ruling] is just terrible news.” 

The legal issue central to the Tekoh case, whether Section 1983 of the US civil code provides for the right to sue law enforcement for Miranda violations, is far from a mundanity. And the court’s finding today that it does not, Seaton said, is “ridiculous.”

She noted Section 1983, as part of the Klu Klux Klan Act of 1871, was specifically enacted “to enable people to seek remedies for oppressive acts by government officials, among others.” 

In a statement on Thursday’s ruling, ACLU Senior Staff Attorney Brett Max Kaufman also highlighted the conservatives’ departure from long established law and practice. Citizens’ right under Section 1983 to seek redress when government officials violate their rights was enshrined in “the country’s most important civil rights statute,” he wrote, while “The warnings mandated by the Supreme Court in Miranda have been part of the fabric of law enforcement interactions with the public for more than 60 years.”

Likewise, in the 2000 case of Dickerson v. United States, the Supreme Court’s then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote the majority opinion which held that Congress may not overturn the Miranda rule, in part because it had “become embedded in routine police practice” and “part of the national culture.”

(A sign of the extent to which these arguments ring true: Miranda rights have been recited in fictional police interrogations on TV shows and in films for decades.)

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U.S. Federal Courts

Bisexuality not covered by federal employment law lawsuit claims

“There is nothing in Title VII that prohibits employers from discriminating because of the employee’s sexual or romantic partners”

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John Minor Wisdom United States Court of Appeals Building in New Orleans, Louisiana (Photo Credit: U.S. Courts/GSA)

NEW ORLEANS – Lawyers in a Texas case filed a brief last week arguing that the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, in June of 2020, does not apply to bisexual men. In that ruling the High Court held that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees against discrimination because they are gay or transgender.

Lawyers for Braidwood Management, a business owned by hardline anti-LGBTQ activist Steven Hotze, and Bear Creek Bible Church in Keller, Texas, argued in their brief that “An employer who discriminates on account of an employee or job applicant’s bisexual orientation (or conduct) cannot engage in ‘sex’ discrimination as defined,” the lawyers wrote, “because that employer would have taken the exact same action against an identically situated individual of the opposite biological sex.” In other words, employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity does not apply to bisexuals — as long as bi men are being discriminated against “on equal terms” as bi women.

The Dallas Morning News reported the brief was filed on the day it was due, Sept. 21, by former Texas solicitor general Jonathan Mitchell and Gene Hamilton, with the Trump affiliated American First Legal, are representing the plaintiffs. midway through Bisexuality Awareness Week.

The Dallas Morning News noted that:

Mitchell sued the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2018, arguing that employers with religious objections should be able to hire and fire employees based on their gender identity or sexual orientation. Last year, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor ruled largely in his favor.

But the judge sided with the federal government on two issues — so-called bisexual conduct and certain transgender health care procedures.

In their reply to that ruling with the Fifth Court of Appeals, Hamilton and Mitchell argue the Texas judge erred on these issues. The lawyers explained their reasoning like this: The Supreme Court’s decision said that an employer cannot treat two people differently solely based on their sex under federal employment discrimination rules known as Title VII.

This means, according to their argument, an employer cannot fire a gay man for being attracted to men if it would not also fire a woman for being attracted to men. But that same employer is in the clear if it discriminates equally against all bisexuals because it is not treating bi men and bi women differently, the lawyers argued.

“The text of Title VII prohibits sex discrimination only with respect to the sex of the affected employee or job applicant,” they wrote. “There is nothing in Title VII that prohibits employers from discriminating because of the ‘sex’ of an employee or job applicant’s sexual or romantic partners.”

One of the foundational arguments in their brief the lawyers cite is the fact that U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch who wrote the majority opinion in Bostock, outlined the fact that “The key to determining whether sex discrimination has taken place is determining whether a worker of the opposite sex would be treated the same.”

“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,” Gorsuch wrote, leaving out any mention of bisexual workers. “Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.”

The lawyers are arguing the difference between romantic or sexual partners and gender identity or sexual orientation as it applies under those circumstances.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Supreme Court rules for LGBTQ students against Yeshiva Uni

The court’s order is a rare loss, for now, for conservative groups pushing so-called religious liberty arguments over LGBTQ rights

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The Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court (Photo Credit: U.S. Supreme Court)

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 vote declined a request from New York City-based Yeshiva University to block a a New York County Supreme Court order that requires the university to recognize the “Pride Alliance” LGBTQ student club.

Last week Associate U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in a brief order, granted an emergency request made by Yeshiva University to temporarily block the order by New York County Supreme Court Judge who had ruled this past June that Yeshiva was bound by the New York City Human Rights Law, which bars discrimination based on sexual orientation.

In its order, the high court noted that the New York state courts had yet to issue a final order in the case, and that Yeshiva could return to the U.S. Supreme Court after the New York courts had acted.

Yeshiva University buildings and facilities on Wilf Campus, New York City (Photo Credit: Yeshiva University)

The university argued that it is a religious institution and therefore should be exempted from the law. Requiring it to endorse the group would be a “clear violation” of its rights under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, which protects the free exercise of religion lawyers for the school said in court documents.

The court’s order is a rare loss, for now, for conservative groups pushing so-called religious liberty arguments over LGBTQ rights at the Supreme Court.

This is yet another in a series of cases the present court has heard and with its 6-3 conservative majority, has strongly backed religious rights in those cases.

Among its most recent rulings the high court has decided in favor of including a 6-3 ruling that sided with a former Bremerton, Washington assistant high school football coach fired for refusing to halt his practice of praying at mid-field after games on school property.

The court in 2021 ruled in favor of a Catholic Church-affiliated agency that Philadelphia had barred from participating in its foster care services because the group refused to place children with same-sex couples. Two years previously in 2018, the court ruled in favor of a conservative Christian baker in Colorado who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

This Fall term justices are set to hear arguments in cases from a web designer, also from Colorado, who wants the court to rule that, based on her evangelical Christian beliefs, she does not have to design wedding websites for same-sex couples. 

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U.S. Federal Courts

DOJ sues on behalf of gay tenant harassed by property manager

“We stand ready to use civil rights laws to combat sexual harassment in housing, including based on sexual orientation/gender identity”

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Milwaukee Federal Building & U.S. Courthouse (Photo Credit: U.S. Courts/GSA)

MILWAUKEE, Wi – The owner and managers of a rental property in Milwaukee, Wisconsin were sued by the U.S. Department of Justice on Friday over their harassment of a gay and disabled tenant in violation of the Fair Housing Act. 

According to the complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, the defendants subjected the complainant-tenant to “discrimination on the basis of sex and disability, including severe, pervasive and unwelcome harassment on multiple occasions” and  “unwelcome and unwanted sexual comments that were egregious, offensive, and violent.” 

“At times relevant to this complaint,” the complainant-tenant, who is gay, received social security disability benefits (“SSDI”) for mental health conditions that left him unable to do basic work-related activities. These included bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), the latter stemming in part from a sexual assault and rape. 

The complainant-tenant made the onsite property manager aware of his sexual orientation and disabilities, including the PTSD, partly because they had become friendly and partly to ensure they were comfortable with his renting a unit on the property. 

Sexual orientation and gender identity are not explicitly covered in the Fair Housing Act but the federal government considers discrimination on these bases tantamount to sex or gender based discrimination. 

Beginning in December 2019 and continuing “throughout most of Complainant’s Tenancy,” to July 2020, the onsite property manager repeatedly texted the complainant-tenant messages such as, “Your a fag a abomination against Jesus fuck you,” and would often yell epithets like, “God hates faggots” from his residence across the street. 

These messages included unwelcome and sexually violent texts like, ““Grab your ankles daddy is coming to get some,” “What do you think about anal fisting,” and “I have a bowling [p]in with your name on it,” according to the complaint. 

The complainant-tenant was also targeted over his disability with messages like, “Get off your lazy ass and work quit scamming off the government” and “Little fag parade scam off the government you can work you‘re no better than a … fucking lazy POS and judge others.”

This escalated into violent confrontations in which the defendant allegedly struck the complainant-tenant in the groin, saying “hope you enjoyed the sexual assault.” 

For these and other violations of the Fair Housing Act, the Justice Department is asking the court to, among other actions, enjoin the defendants from future discrimination, award monetary damages, and other relief. 

“We stand ready to use our civil rights laws to combat all forms of sexual harassment in housing, including harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, in a press release issued by the agency. 

“The Justice Department will hold accountable landlords and housing providers who engage in unlawful discrimination and harassment of vulnerable tenants.”

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