Morristown native plays key role in  landmark LGTBQ Supreme Court decision

Stanford law students from left, Ben Hattem, JD ’20, Connie Lu Wang, JD ’20, and Tyler Bishop, JD ’20, at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Tyler Bishop has had an eventful quarantine.

The class of Morristown Hamblen High School West 2011 grad completed his Doctor of Jurisprudence from Stanford law.

He’s landed a job with the Washington D.C. offices of the prestigious law firm Perkins Coie, which specializes in voting rights cases. He’s prepping for a cross country move to begin work later this month.

Oh. And the work he did for Stanford’s Supreme Court Litigation Clinic last year helped result in a landmark decision from the nation’s top court.

Bishop was part of a team of Stanford law students who prepared briefs that ultimately led to a watershed Supreme Court decision shielding gay, lesbian and transgender people from job discrimination.

“I feel really blessed to have the opportunities I’ve had. It was the experience of a lifetime. I’ve been joking that I feel like I peaked early,” Bishop said. “It’s pretty remarkable. I just feel blessed to have the opportunity. Luckily, we had a great result ultimately.”

Bishop’s work was part of Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, which bundled three separate cases together. The Stanford students’ client specifically was Donald Zarda, a New York skydiving instructor who was fired after telling a client he was gay.

The students worked under the direction of the clinic’s co-chair, professor Pamela Karlan, who argued the case before the Supreme Court last October.

Bishop and the other students met with clients, got their view of the case and drafted briefs.

The argument they applied was based on the Civil Rights Act of 1966, which explicitly bans discrimination in the workplace based on sex.

“This was a pretty straightforward application of the text,” Bishop said. “Ultimately, the law is the law and the text governs. And that was the argument to the court.”

Bishop said that back in October, when oral arguments were made, there was some indication from the court that the textual argument was carrying weight. But, he said, in the ensuing months he’s tried to not get his hopes too high.

“We were not fully confident at any point, because you never really know what to expect,” he said.

When the 6-3 decision was announced, many political pundits expressed surprise that Chief Justice John Roberts sided in favor of the LGBTQ protection and that the opinion was written by Justice Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s first Supreme Court appointee.

“I think Chief Justice Roberts, in particular, has spent a lot of time trying to build what he sees as the legitimacy of the court,” Bishop said. “He himself has not been one to join the major progressive opinions. Here, I think because of the strength of the textual argument, he was persuaded.”

In a time of bitter partisanship bleeding from politics into many aspects of everyday life, Bishop said it was gratifying to see a case decided simply on the merits of the arguments versus perceived political standings.

“It’s hard to come away from this case without being at least a little more hopeful,” he said. “We have a long way to go in a host of other issues, especially in this tough moment in history. There’s so much hatred and bigotry. At the end of the day, it’s nice to have a moment to think at least this time the system worked the way it’s supposed to work.”

Making sure the system works the way it’s supposed to will be a big part of Bishop’s life moving forward. Working for Perkins Coie, Bishop will be involved in protecting voting rights. It’s a mission that is close to his heart.

“My dad is Black and my mom is White,” he said adding he grew up to his father’s stories about Tyler’s grandparents being denied the right to vote. “I’ve always had an eye towards racial justice. I think voting rights have been right at the heart of that struggle.”

After graduating West, Bishop went to Vanderbilt, where he graduated in 2015. He spent two years in the workforce, including working for the Atlantic Magazine’s Washington D.C. office. In 2017, he went back to school to study at Stanford’s prestigious law school.

With his education and having been drawn to work in Washington, D.C. twice, now, a political career may seem a natural progression for Bishop. While he doesn’t want to rule anything out completely, he said he prefers to be one of the people who work to get things done behind the scenes.

“I just want to do what I can do to make a difference,” he said. “I don’t have a vision of myself in a political role.”

Bishop is one of many high-achieving students from Hamblen County to have a national impact across a variety of fields. Bishop attributes much of their success stories to the quality of education they received in Hamblen County.

“I was really, really impressed with how great the education was in Morristown,” he said.” I hope people continue to invest in students’ success.”

Bishop said he’s thankful to many of his former teachers.

“At West, in particular, Mark Workman, Tamara Harrell and Lauren Mott,” he said. “They encouraged me to apply to Vanderbilt and they stick out to me.”

For the students in Morristown now, following in his footsteps, Bishop offers encouragement of his own.

“Get out there and start doing what makes you happy and what you think needs to be done in the world,” he said. “Pursue your passion. Don’t forget your roots and keep working to make your community stronger.”