Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Judge Temporarily Blocks Obama Administration’s Transgender Bathroom Rules

A federal judge in Texas has temporarily blocked the Obama administration’s directive allowing transgender public school students to use the bathroom of their choice, siding with Texas and a coalition of 12 other states that filed a lawsuit over the issue.

In a ruling issued late Sunday, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor said that administration failed to take proper steps in crafting the recent guidelines, which say schools should let students use the bathroom of their chosen gender identity.

Judge O’Connor said that because the guidelines were in effect legally binding regulations, the Department of Education should have held a formal process allowing those impacted—in this case, states and school districts—to publicly comment on them.
“The Guidelines are, in practice, legislative rules—not just interpretations or policy statements because they set clear legal standards,” Judge O’Connor wrote. “Although Defendants have characterized the Guidelines as interpretive… their actual legal effect prove that they are ‘compulsory in nature.’”

The judge also said in his ruling that the guidelines appeared to conflict with existing federal education regulations passed in the 1970s that referred to an individual’s sex.

“It cannot be disputed that the plain meaning of the term sex... meant the biological and anatomical differences between male and female students as determined at their birth,” he wrote, referring to the intent of the regulations.

The ruling was issued just as many children in Texas and other states head back to school this week.

The decision also was a setback for the Obama administration’s effort to weigh in on transgender bathroom use by students, which the administration has framed as a civil rights matter.

In North Carolina, the state and the Obama administration have filed dueling lawsuits over a state law passed in March requiring transgender people to use the public bathroom of the sex corresponding to their birth certificate. Last month, the National Basketball Association pulled its next All-Star Game from Charlotte, citing the climate created by the law.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court also temporarily blocked a transgender student in Virginia who identifies as male from using the boy’s bathroom at his high school, giving local officials time to appeal a lower-court ruling that sided with the student.

Texas and a coalition of other states filed a federal lawsuit in May seeking to stop the administration’s guidelines, which were issued that same month, from taking effect.

At a hearing earlier this month in Fort Worth, Benjamin Berwick, a lawyer for the Justice Department, said states hadn’t proved that they faced any imminent harm from the guidelines, which haven’t yet resulted in any punishment.

During the hearing, Austin Nimocks, a lawyer for the Texas attorney general’s office, argued that the guidelines were an overly broad solution to an issue that states and school districts should decide without the risk of being punished.

“We are pleased that the court ruled against the Obama administration’s latest illegal federal overreach,” said Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in a statement. “This President is attempting to rewrite the laws enacted by the elected representatives of the people, and is threatening to take away federal funding from schools to force them to conform.”

A Justice Department spokeswoman said the agency “is disappointed in the court’s decision, and we are reviewing our options.”

“The injunction takes the extraordinary step of harming transgender students and ignoring the law as it exists in other jurisdictions,” said Paul Castillo, staff attorney for Lambda Legal, one of several gay rights advocacy groups that filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of guidelines.

Mr. Castillo also said the ruling didn't block transgender students and their attorneys from bringing legal actions in the courts.

Gay-rights groups said they expected the Justice Department to appeal the decision.

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