Newsletter: A big day at the Supreme Court

In this May 3, 2020 photo, the setting sun shines on the Supreme Court building on Capitol Hill in Washington.
The Supreme Court building on Capitol Hill in Washington.
(Patrick Semansky / Associated Press)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Tuesday, June 16, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

Monday was a big day at the U.S. Supreme Court, with a number of major opinions and orders issued. Here’s what you need to know.

In arguably the biggest news of the day, the high court declared that the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects LGBTQ employees from workplace discrimination nationwide.

[Read the story: “Landmark civil rights law extends to LGBTQ employees, Supreme Court rules” in the Los Angeles Times]


My colleague Supreme Court reporter David G. Savage characterized the decision as “one of the most far-reaching civil rights advances in recent decades.”

While California and at least 20 other states had previously enshrined workplace discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer employees in state laws, those same workers still lacked legal protection in more than half of U.S. states. The ruling, which explicitly delineates protections for transgender workers, came just days after the Trump administration finalized a regulation that overturns Obama-era protections for transgender people against sex discrimination in healthcare.

The landmark LGBTQ rights victory was led by an unlikely ally: Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion. Gorsuch, a Trump appointee who replaced Antonin Scalia, is considered to be one of the more conservative justices on the court. When his nomination was announced back in January 2017, the world’s largest LGBTQ media advocacy organization warned that a Gorsuch confirmation would put the community’s safety, well-being and progress at risk.

But Gorsuch’s role in the opinion makes perfect sense when you consider the justice’s legal philosophy. As the New York Times noted in its coverage, Gorsuch is a staunch proponent of “textualism” — or the belief that judges should look only at the actual text of a statute, rather than taking a lawmaker’s intent into account.

The text of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act clearly states that it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate based on an “individual’s race, color, religion, sex or national origin.” The inclusion of that three-letter word — “sex” — has had massive ramifications on American life over the past half-century, including this very Supreme Court decision.

(Interestingly, the Equal Employment Opportunity section of the law wasn’t originally intended to extend to women: The word “sex” was inserted into the bill by an ardent segregationist in a last-minute amendment that “was seen by the frantic pro–civil-rights forces as a poison pill that might put the whole bill at risk,” as Todd S. Purdum explained in an Atlantic story last year. But it still passed, and the rest, as they say, is history.)

It’s unlikely that lawmakers in the early 1960s ever imagined that protections on the basis of sex would extend to gay and transgender employees. But one can’t argue with the text itself.


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

Other orders announced Monday by the high court

The Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear the Trump administration’s challenge to a California “sanctuary” law, leaving intact rules that prohibit law enforcement officials from aiding federal agents in taking custody of immigrants as they are released from jail. The court’s action is a major victory for California in the state’s long-running battle with President Trump.

[Read the story: “California ‘sanctuary’ rules stay in place after Supreme Court rejects Trump’s challenge” in the Los Angeles Times]

Separately, the court refused to hear several cases involving gun rights and police immunity. The justices “for now appear unready to reconsider past rulings that gave states ample authority to regulate guns and to shield police from lawsuits,” as Savage explained in his story.

In a column, my colleague Erika Smith argued that “Monday was a wash for equal rights” if one takes into account the court’s ruling on basic LGBTQ workplace protections and their refusal to hear eight separate cases that would have opened the door to challenging the doctrine that protects police officers from civil lawsuits alleging brutality and other civil rights violations.

“At a time when protests are still popping up daily to denounce injustice at the hands — and sometimes knees — of police, it’s hard not to compare the pace of change and acceptance for the LGBTQ community and the Black community,” Smith, who is Black and gay, wrote.

Cases on abortion, DACA, religious schools and Trump’s tax returns are still pending before the high court. The next set of opinions will be released Thursday morning.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

As COVID-19 cases in California continue to climb, and the death toll tops 5,000, Gov. Gavin Newsom defended California’s reopening rules. Newsom said COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state remain stable weeks after restrictions started to be modified, during a period that included the busy Memorial Day weekend, and maintained that the safeguards in place continue to effectively slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. The governor said requiring residents to remain isolated would threaten their overall well-being, including physical and mental health and finances. Los Angeles Times


Inspections show that at least 1,000 L.A. County restaurants are not following coronavirus safety rules. Officials visited roughly 2,000 restaurants over the weekend and found that half of them were not in compliance with the county’s guidelines. Los Angeles Times

Black Lives Matter leaders meet with L.A. politicians, saying, “Defund the police.” In an extraordinary face-to-face meeting, a coalition of activists led by Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles urged members of the City Council on Monday to end the city’s reliance on police officers and embrace new strategies for keeping neighborhoods safe. Los Angeles Times

Tired of talk, Black leaders in Hollywood want real change. The Times interviewed nearly two dozen Black entertainment industry voices, spanning directors, producers, writers, designers, agents and executives. They discussed racism in Hollywood, what needs to change and their frustration with years of talk and little action by powerful companies. Los Angeles Times

The 2021 Oscars have been postponed to April 25 due to coronavirus concerns. The Oscars’ two-month delay will set off an entertainment industry domino effect, affecting film festivals and every other awards show. Los Angeles Times

The city of Los Angeles — and specifically South L.A. — is a commanding character on Issa Rae’s“Insecure.” Here’s how the show created the “realness” of Season 4. Los Angeles Times

Season 4 of “Insecure” has been one of the best in terms of visuals.
Season 4 of “Insecure” has been one of the best in terms of visuals. Here’s how it created the colorful, cinematic world that brings L.A. to life.
(Ross May / Los Angeles Times; HBO; Getty Images)


Border delays spell trouble for U.S. patients used to getting cheap medication in Mexico. Some San Diego residents who normally cross the border to buy medications at a much cheaper price in Tijuana say they’re struggling with access. San Diego Union-Tribune


Gov. Gavin Newsom and Democratic leaders of the California Legislature said Monday they were still working toward an agreement on a new state budget, but the lateness of the negotiations left lawmakers in the awkward position of voting on an earlier framework — one without Newsom’s support — a few hours before their annual deadline to do so. Approval of the earlier-drafted budget bill by both houses means that substantial alterations will be needed in the coming days to reflect the ultimate deal between Newsom and lawmakers. Los Angeles Times

UC regents unanimously endorsed restoring affirmative action. More than two decades after affirmative action was outlawed at public campuses, University of California regents on Monday unanimously supported the repeal of Proposition 209, the 1996 state initiative that banned preferential treatment by government bodies based on race, ethnicity or sex — and has been blamed for a decline in diversity at UC’s most selective campuses. Los Angeles Times

Fort Bragg considers changing its name. The City Council of Fort Bragg, a small Northern California city named after Braxton Bragg, a Confederate Army general and slave owner, is pondering putting a town name change on the November ballot. Los Angeles Times

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The alleged Golden State Killer is expected to plead guilty later this month in a deal that will spare him the death penalty, according to multiple sources. Joseph James DeAngelo Jr., 74, is set to enter a guilty plea to 13 murders and kidnapping charges from as many rapes on June 29 in a yet-to-be-determined Sacramento County courtroom. Los Angeles Times

Authorities said Monday that the cause of death of Robert Fuller, who was found hanging from a tree in Palmdale, has been deferred pending further investigation, as the state attorney general sends investigators to assist in determining whether the young Black man died by suicide or was the victim of foul play. An FBI spokeswoman said Monday that the agency would monitor the Palmdale investigation, as well as the death of a second man under similar circumstances in Victorville. Los Angeles Times

Stanislaus County Superior Court is apologizing for a post on its Twitter account that mocked protesters tearing down a Confederate statue and endorsed President Trump’s reelection. The Modesto-based court first said it had been hacked and later said one of its employees was responsible. Modesto Bee


Nearly 160 coronavirus vaccines are in the works. Here’s a closer look at the science. Los Angeles Times

U.S. regulators revoked emergency authorization for using malaria drugs to treat COVID-19 amid growing evidence they don’t work and could cause deadly side effects. Hydroxychloroquine and a similar drug, chloroquine, have been the subject of much debate since Trump began aggressively promoting them beginning in the first weeks of the outbreak and later stunned medical professionals when he revealed he took the drug preemptively against infection. Los Angeles Times


Silicon Valley tech workers are migrating to Sonoma County during the pandemic. If this temporary trend takes hold broadly across many industries for years, it could have some profound ramifications for the county, analysts and business leaders said. Santa Rosa Press-Democrat

Berkeley’s school district will rename two elementary schools as part of a broader “Black Lives Matter” push. Washington and Jefferson elementary schools are named after the first and third U.S. presidents, both of whom were slave owners. Berkeleyside

Love the outdoors? Then you’ll love The Wild, a new L.A. Times newsletter about where to go and what to do outside in Southern California. Los Angeles Times

Some quality alone time in quarantine: Socially distanced sex toys are hot sellers at San Francisco’s newly reopened Good Vibrations. SF Gate

Cerritos College has opened the state’s first housing project for community college students facing housing insecurity. More than half of the 22,000 students at the Norwalk school are either homeless or struggle to pay their rent and other housing utilities. EdSource

A poem to start your Tuesday: “I Know a Man” by Robert Creeley. Poetry Foundation

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Los Angeles: sunny, 78. San Diego: sunny, 69. San Francisco: windy, 69. San Jose: windy, 75. Fresno: sunny, 85. Sacramento: sunny, 84. More weather is here.


Today’s California memory comes from Federico Goodsaid:

Sept. 30, 1970. I’m a sophomore transfer student from the University of Puerto Rico at UC Berkeley. I’m at “Red Square West” for orientation. I have just bought my first jacket for my new experience with the non-tropical “Goldilocks” weather in the Bay Area. The future on that day was forever. Throughout almost 50 years, my wife and family would come back to live with me in the Bay Area for four different jobs. My perfect home over half a century has been the warmth and limitless possibilities of Puerto Rico and the cool and limitless imagination of the Bay Area.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.