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Hively's Self-Induced Blindness

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The Seventh Circuit’s en banc decision in Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College has received as much attention for its dueling views of statutory interpretation as for its historic holding: that sexual orientation discrimination is protected under Title VII’s “because of sex” prong. Yet the opinions’ divergent approaches to statutory interpretation end up doing surprisingly little work. Lacking substantive engagement with the ways sexual orientation discrimination helps police gender norms or longstanding debates over how thoroughly Title VII is meant to disrupt those norms, the opinions instead offer an originalism without history, a dynamic interpretation that lacks limits, and a textualism largely divorced from the values Title VII’s text is meant to address. As other courts consider whether to adopt Hively’s important holding, its gender-blind approach to equality law should give way to one that foregrounds the opportunity-limiting sex stereotyping at the heart of anti-LGBT animus.

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