Statement from Human Rights Campaign on the Retirement of Justice Stephen Breyer, a Champion of LGBTQ+ Equality

by Henry Berg-Brousseau

In response to United States Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer announcing his retirement, Human Rights Campaign Interim President Joni Madison issued the following statement:

“With Justice Stephen Breyer’s retirement, the Supreme Court is losing a brilliant legal mind and a champion of liberty and equality. Justice Breyer’s tenure on the Court established him as a defender of LGBTQ+ civil rights and his decisions delivered important progress toward our country’s founding ideal of a more perfect union that is inclusive and equitable for all. The Human Rights Campaign is deeply grateful for Justice Breyer’s impact.
“The stakes could not be higher for LGBTQ+ people, women, and Black and brown communities when it comes to the next Supreme Court Justice. President Biden’s first nominee has big shoes to fill, as they will shape the future of progress on LGBTQ+ equality and play an outsized role in defending the rights and protections that have already been won. President Biden has the opportunity to help shape a court that reflects the beautiful diversity of our country.”

Justice Breyer’s tenure on the Supreme Court coincided with remarkable progress for LGBTQ+ individuals. He often cast the fifth and decisive vote in a number of cases that have improved the lives of LGBTQ+ people in the United States. For example, his vote helped:

  • Ensure that states could not criminalize intimate relationships between two consenting adults;

  • Strike down Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which prevented LGBTQ+ Americans from accessing benefits like social security, family and medical leave to care for an ailing spouse, and receiving veteran’s spouse medical benefits;

  • Make marriage equality the law of the land;

  • Prevented voters from forclosing states and cities from adopting nondiscrimination laws and policies for sexual orientation; and

  • Determine that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

As this process moves forward, the Human Rights Campaign will work in coalition with civil rights groups across movements to advocate for the appointment of a fair-minded Constitutionalist to the nation’s highest court. The Human Rights Campaign full criteria for judicial nominees includes:

  • Demonstrate commitment to full equality under law for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer Americans; individuals living with HIV and AIDS; women; people with disabilities; and racial, ethnic and religious minorities;

  • Demonstrate commitment to the constitutional right to privacy and individual liberty, including the right of two consenting adults to enter into consensual intimate relationships;

  • Respect the constitutional authority of Congress to promote equality and civil rights and provide statutory remedies for discrimination and violence;

  • Demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of and commitment to the separation of church and state and the protection of those citizens with minority religious views;

  • Respect state legislatures' attempts to address discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, race, color, national origin, religion and other factors through carefully crafted legislation that meets the requirements of the Constitution.

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