Statutory Originalism and LGBT Rights
42 Pages Posted: 23 Sep 2018 Last revised: 14 Sep 2021
Date Written: September 5, 2018
In the wake of marriage equality, LGBT claims to employment rights have taken center stage in the struggle for LGBT equality. Raising claims under federal sex discrimination law, advocates have argued that anti-LGBT discrimination is, necessarily, also sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”). Such claims have seen increasing success in the federal courts as biases against the LGBT community have receded, allowing courts to recognize the textual and doctrinal logic of such sex discrimination claims. As victories in the lower courts have accumulated, the LGBT employment discrimination issue has increasingly seemed poised to be the next major LGBT equality issue to reach the Supreme Court.
But a new argument has also arisen to dispute LGBT Title VII claims, sounding in “statutory originalism.” Arguing that the meaning of Title VII ought to be judged by reference to its “original public meaning”—and that the original public in 1964 would not have thought that anti LGBT discrimination was proscribed—opponents of LGBT inclusion have contended that such sex discrimination claims cannot be allowed. In making these arguments, opponents have endeavored to sidestep well-established textualist case law that rejects virtually identical arguments when made under the rubric of Congressional expectations or intent.
This Article contends that the “original public meaning” approach raised by opponents of LGBT inclusion is neither so distinctive, nor so uncontroversial, as its proponents have suggested. “Original public meaning” itself is a modality of statutory interpretation that has almost no pedigree in the federal statutory interpretation case law. And yet the arguments of its proponents do bear a striking resemblance to another well-established, but now discredited approach: looking to the expectations or intent of Congress to limit broad and unambiguous statutory text. Moreover, the specific approach to “original public meaning” taken by opponents of LGBT inclusion—looking to “original expected applications”—is one that should concern both civil rights advocates and originalists alike. Thus, courts ought to reject the novel “original public meaning” arguments that have been raised in opposing LGBT employment equality claims.
Keywords: Statutory Interpretation, Employment Discrimination, LGBT Rights, Originalism, Title VII, Sex Discrimination
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