In Bostock v. Clayton County, one of the blockbuster cases from its 2019 Term, the Supreme Court held that federal antidiscrimination law prohibits employment discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. Unsurprisingly, the result won wide acclaim in the mainstream legal and popular media. Results aside, however, the reaction to Justice Neil Gorsuch’s majority opinion, which purported to ground the outcome in a textualist approach to statutory interpretation, was more mixed. The great majority of commentators, both liberal and conservative, praised Justice Gorsuch for what they deemed a careful and sophisticated—even “magnificent” and “exemplary”—application of textualist principles, while a handful of critics, all conservative, agreed with the dissenters that textualism could not deliver the outcome that the decision reached.

This Article shows that conservative critics of the majority’s reasoning were correct—up to a point. Specifically, it argues that Title VII’s ban on discrimination “because of” an employee’s “sex” does not cover discrimination because of their sexual orientation as a matter of “plain” or “ordinary” meaning. Further, it demonstrates that Justice Gorsuch’s effort to establish that result as a matter of “legal” meaning wholly fails because it depends upon a fatally flawed application of the “but-for” test for causation, one that flouts bedrock principles of counterfactual reasoning. It follows that if a textualist approach to statutory interpretation is correct or warranted, then Bostock was wrongly decided. However, if Bostock was rightly decided, then it must follow that textualism is wrong or misguided. This Article endorses the latter possibility, explaining that the dominant American approach to statutory interpretation is neither textualist nor purposivist but pluralist. It concludes by drawing powerful but previously unnoticed support for pluralism from Justice Samuel Alito’s principal dissent.



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.