Issues Nationwide Injunction in Lawsuit Brought by Texas on Behalf of 13 States
As expected, a federal district judge in Texas has issued a nationwide injunction blocking the Obama administration from enforcing recent guidance saying public schools should allow transgender students to use restroom and locker rooms based on their gender identity.
U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor, a George W. Bush appointee who has a record of opposing LGBT rights, handed down the 38-page order Sunday in a lawsuit brought by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on behalf of 13 states. At a hearing 10 days ago, Paxton's office argued the administration is holding “a gun to the head” of the states by threatening to withhold federal education funds if they don’t “mix the sexes in intimate areas."
However, O'Connor didn't rule on the merits of the lawsuit — or the question of whether trans students are protected against discrimination under existing federal law. Rather, he concluded that the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice failed to follow proper legal procedure before issuing the guidance in May.
"This case presents the difficult issue of balancing the protection of students’ rights and that of personal privacy when using school bathrooms, locker rooms, showers, and other intimate facilities, while ensuring that no student is unnecessarily marginalized while attending school," O'Connor wrote. "The resolution of this difficult policy issue is not, however, the subject of this Order. Instead, the Constitution assigns these policy choices to the appropriate elected and appointed officials, who must follow the proper legal procedure."
O'Connor's order states that the injunction bars the administration from "initiating, continuing, or concluding any investigation" based on its opinion that Title IX, the 1972 federal law prohibiting discrimination based on sex in education programs, also covers gender identity. The injunction also bars the administration from "asserting the Guidelines carry weight in any litigation initiated" going forward.
LGBT advocates have said they expect the Obama administration to immediately appeal the injunction.
Freedom for All Americans, the bipartisan campaign to secure nationwide protections for LGBT people, called O'Connor's order "outrageous."
“Today’s ruling is a step back for transgender protections by a conservative judge who refused to hear the voices of a single transgender student or worker during court proceedings," FFAA chief program officer Kasey Suffredini said. "It is shameful that opponents of equality have forced this lawsuit forward in an attempt to make transgender Americans pawns in a political game; but this ruling will not stand the test of time. All transgender Americans — particularly transgender youth — deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. No singular court ruling negates the right of all Americans to receive equal treatment under the law — that’s one of our nation’s founding values."
Paxton said in a statement he was "pleased that the court ruled against the Obama Administration’s latest illegal federal overreach.
"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," he said. "That cannot be allowed to continue, which is why we took action to protect States and School Districts, who are charged under state law to establish a safe and disciplined environment conducive to student learning.”
Sarah Webelow, legal director for the Human Rights Campaign, said O'Connor's order "puts thousands of transgender students at even greater risk of marginalization, harassment, and discrimination."
"Despite this judge’s decision, schools are not barred from following the federal guidance, and school administrators still have a responsibility to ensure that the civil rights of all students are respected and that transgender students have access to facilities consistent with their gender identity," Warbelow said. "As lawsuits on the scope of Title IX proceed, we believe that justice will prevail as courts continue to recognize that discrimination against transgender students is a form of sex discrimination.”
Read O'Connor's order here.