News Briefs for the Week of Aug 2, 2017

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Check out the latest news from around the nation!


Arkansas Asks That City's LGBT Rights Ordinance Be Blocked

(AP) Arkansas asked a judge Friday to block enforcement of a city ordinance that bans discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, months after the state's highest court ruled the measure violated a law aimed at prohibiting local LGBT protections.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge and a group opposed to the Fayetteville anti-discrimination ordinance asked Washington County Circuit Judge Doug Martin to issue a preliminary injunction against the measure. The state Supreme Court in February reversed a ruling that the ordinance didn't violate a state law prohibiting cities from enacting protections not covered by state law. Arkansas' civil rights law doesn't cover sexual orientation or gender identity.

Justices sent the case back to Martin's court and said they couldn't rule on the state law's constitutionality since it wasn't addressed in the lower court. Rutledge and Protect Fayetteville said in the court filing that the fight over the law's constitutionality could take months to resolve, so the local ordinance should be blocked in the meantime.

"If a preliminary injunction is not issued, enforcement of Fayetteville Ordinance 5781 will prevent the state of Arkansas from fully implementing the purpose and goals of the Interstate Commerce Improvement Act," the filing said. "Prevention of the state's policy of statewide uniformity in antidiscrimination law constitutes irreparable harm."

Attorneys for Fayetteville did not immediately return messages seeking comment late Friday afternoon. The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, which represents LGBT residents in Fayetteville who have intervened in the case, said it would oppose the effort to block the ordinance.


SC Court Hits Pause on Same-Sex Domestic Violence Ruling

(AP) South Carolina's highest court is delaying implementation of a ruling involving domestic violence protections for same-sex couples amid criticism from both sides that the decision actually leaves all unmarried couples less protected.

The state Supreme Court on Friday issued a stay in its decision from earlier in the week. As written, the ruling issued Wednesday could prevent all unmarried partners from being charged with domestic violence.

Attorney General Alan Wilson joined with a gay woman who successfully sued the state to ask the justices to re-write their ruling.

Bakari Sellers, the woman's lawyer, says he and Wilson want justices to tell lower courts to apply the law to all unmarried couples, rather than depend on a conservative Legislature to change a badly worded law.


DOJ Files Amicus Brief that Says Title VII Does Not Protect Sexual Orientation

(CNN) The Justice Department filed an amicus brief Wednesday saying that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not cover employment "discrimination based on sexual orientation."

The DOJ filed the brief in the case of Donald Zarda, who had filed suit against his former employer Altitude Express in a case that questions whether sexual orientation is included in Title VII's protections.

Title VII prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin.

Zarda was a skydiving instructor who said he was fired after disclosing his sexual orientation to a customer. He died in a skydiving accident before the case went to trial, and executors of his estate have continued the lawsuit on his behalf.

"The sole question here is whether, as a matter of law, Title VII reaches sexual orientation discrimination. It does not, as has been settled for decades. Any efforts to amend Title VII's scope should be directed to Congress rather than the courts," according to the DOJ's brief.

It concluded "that Title VII does not prohibit discrimination because of sexual orientation."

The American Civil Liberties Union blasted the DOJ's position as a "gratuitous and extraordinary attack on LGBT people's civil rights."

"Fortunately, courts will decide whether the Civil Rights Act protects LGBT people, not an Attorney General and a White House that are hell-bent on playing politics with people's lives," said James Esseks, director of the ACLU's LGBT & HIV Project, in a statement. "We are confident that the courts will side with equality and the people."


Texas Vote Set on 'Bathroom Bill' Despite Police Opposition

(AP) Police chiefs from Texas' largest cities rallied outside the state Capitol Tuesday in opposition to a "bathroom bill" targeting transgender people, just as Senate Republicans inside lurched toward a new vote on restrictions similar to those approved in North Carolina.

The chances of the bill ultimately reaching the desk of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott remain tenuous despite overwhelming GOP control of the Legislature.

Abbott summoned lawmakers back to sweltering Austin for a special legislative session, largely because the first efforts to put bathroom restrictions on transgender people collapsed in May. The bill has ripped clean open a rancorous split in the Texas GOP between moderates who stand with high-profile opponents - including Apple and the NFL - and social conservatives who drive the state's political agenda.

The Senate is again poised to overwhelmingly approve the bill, but Democrats were trying to stall a vote with procedural challenges and drawn-out debate.

State troopers removed a few protesters in the mostly empty Senate gallery who shouted "This is a farce!" and unfurled a banner that read "Y'all means all" over the second-story railing.

Republican state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst described the bill as an "opportunity to shut down predators and voyeurs" upon bringing the measure to the floor. She spoke just as police chiefs and top commanders from the four biggest cities in Texas - Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin - stood on the Capitol steps and told reporters they had not found examples of restroom-related sexual assaults.

They said forcing police to combat non-existent crime will increase discrimination, make Texas more dangerous and waste their time.

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