In a rally of about 40 people to call on Sen. Pat Toomey to support a timely hearing for any U.S. Supreme Court nominee from the president, two groups stood with particular urgency as federal cases for their causes took center stage this week.
A speaker from Equality Pennsylvania made reference to the first federal claims filed March 1 by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation.
The Philadelphia EEOC office is handling a claim against a Pittsburgh area medical center. The other claim is against a Baltimore pallet-distribution company. No courts have yet ruled on the EEOC guideline that sexual-orientation discrimination should be prohibited based on an existing law that prohibits discrimination based on sex.
“It’s important more than ever to make sure that we don’t hold back and we don’t hesitate,” Ernest Owens, Equality Pennsylvania board member, told PGN at the March 3 rally outside Toomey’s office at 17th Street and JFK Blvd.
Maggie Groff, vice president for external affairs at Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania, referenced Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments March 2 to determine whether a Texas law that places restrictions on the state’s abortion providers creates an undue burden for women.
“It’s time we actually restore access, not do more to restrict it,” Groff said. “The Supreme Court’s role in deciding important cases on women’s health is in fact a very big deal.”
Owens and Groff were joined by members of PennEnvironment, Action United and the National Employment Lawyers Association among others.
Toomey has stood with other Republican lawmakers in saying that naming a replacement for the late Justice Antonin Scalia should be done by the next president and that they won’t consider a nomination made by President Barack Obama.
Obama has not announced a nominee or a timeline for when he will do so.
Staff at Toomey’s Philadelphia office directed questions to the Harrisburg office. Staff at that office were not immediately available for comment.
Adam Garber, field director for PennEnvironment, helped organize the various interest groups at the rally.
“It really had to be a joint effort,” Garber said. “Whether fighting climate change, for voting and women’s rights or LGBT equality issues, we need the system to fairly listen to justices the president may nominate.”
Scott Collins with the National Employment Lawyers Association said it’s important to have nine justices hearing each case that comes before the Supreme Court. Swiftly filling the vacancy on the court, he said, will allow it to function efficiently while avoiding any decisions that end in a tie.
Owens of Equality Pennsylvania said Obama has a Constitutional obligation to nominate the next justice, and is someone the LGBT community can trust.
“Given that he’s the most progressive pro-LGBT elected official that we have had, and at the highest ranking level that we have had in history, it would be important for us to have him there to appoint a Supreme Court nominee,” Owens said.