Legal groups take on Texas-led lawsuit
LGBT legal groups say some states are attempting to circumvent federal appeals court rulings that require they respect the rights of transgender students.
In a friend-of-the-court brief to a federal district court in Texas July 27, the five groups say more than a dozen states are attempting to avoid complying with federal non-discrimination laws and court rulings interpreting those laws by seeking a “national injunction” to prevent the Obama administration from enforcing the laws.
The brief urges the U.S. District Court in Wichita Falls, Texas, to deny a motion from the states seeking a national injunction through a lawsuit filed in May by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. The Paxton-led lawsuit claims that Obama administration agencies, including the departments of Education and Labor, have “conspired to turn workplaces and educational settings across the country into laboratories for a massive social experiment, flouting the democratic process, and running roughshod over commonsense policies protecting children and basic privacy rights.”
Paxton’s lawsuit says policies adopted by the administration are attempting to rewrite federal laws that prohibit sex discrimination in employment (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act) and education (Title IX of the Education Amendments Act) to define “sex” in a radical way. In writing these laws, says the Paxton lawsuit, Congress intended “sex” to refer “only to one’s biological sex, as male or female, and not the radical re-authoring of the term….”
Starting in 2010, Obama administration agencies began interpreting “sex” to include “gender identity” and persons who are transgender. Most recently, in May of this year, the departments of Education and Justice issued guidelines saying discrimination against transgender students violates federal law and that schools failing to comply with the laws could lose their federal funding.
The Paxton-led lawsuit, Texas v. U.S., says the Obama administration guidelines in this area are exceeding what Congress intended when it passed the two federal laws. It says the administration guidelines violate both the Tenth Amendment, which reserves to the states all powers that the Constitution does not specifically delegate to the federal government, and the 14th Amendment guarantee of equal protection.
In an unusually broadly written request, Texas v. U.S. seeks both preliminary and permanent injunctions that would prevent the federal government from implementing “the new rules, regulations, and guidance interpretations.”
“What that means is anyone’s guess,” quips the brief filed by the five LGBT legal groups. The groups include Lambda Legal, the ACLU, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the Transgender Law Center.
The 13 states joined in the lawsuit against the DOE guidelines are Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. The brief filed by the five legal groups notes that federal appeals courts governing half of these states have already ruled that sex discrimination includes discrimination against transgender people. It argues that appeals courts governing the remaining states are the appropriate forum for any challenge of the guidelines. And it notes that some cases are already underway in other legal jurisdictions. Among these lawsuits are challenges to North Carolina’s recently passed ban (HB2) prohibiting transgender people from using a public restroom that corresponds with their gender identity and a Virginia lawsuit over whether a transgender student may use a school restroom that corresponds with his gender identity.
“By choosing to instead file their claims in this Court, the non-Texas [states] are forum shopping, a practice which should not be countenanced,” said the five groups’ brief.
In a joint statement released July 27, the five groups say the state officials involved in the Texas v. U.S. lawsuit “want to block implementation of guidance issued by the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice recognizing that schools must be safe, respectful and nurturing environments for all students and that singling out transgender students for separate and unequal treatment is demeaning and harmful to them. ”
Texas v. U.S. is one of dozens of lawsuits filed by Texas against Obama administration policies.