Equity & Diversity

Judge Halts Obama Administration’s Transgender-Student Rules Nationwide

By Evie Blad — August 22, 2016 3 min read
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A Texas federal judge issued a nationwide order late Sunday, temporarily halting application of the Obama administration’s guidance on transgender students while a 13-state legal challenge on the issue, led by Texas, is decided.

The case is one of a number of legal challenges related to the May guidance, in which the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice said that, under Title IX, public schools must allow transgender students to use single-sex restrooms and locker rooms that align with their gender identity, even if it differs from their sex at birth. A related case, brought by a transgender Virginia student, may be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor sided with Texas and 12 other state plaintiffs in his order for a temporary injunction, which bars the federal agencies from enforcing the guidance and from from initiating civil rights investigations in schools based on their interpretation that Title IX’s discrimination protections apply to gender identity until he makes final judgment on the case.

The case centers largely on whether the federal agencies followed the proper process for rule making. The state plaintiffs argued that, under the Administrative Procedures Act, the departments were required to provide opportunity for notice and comment before setting a rule. But the federal agencies argued that they were merely interpreting an existing regulation. Previously, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Virginia took the Obama Administration’s side, citing precedent and arguing that it was proper to defer to the federal interpretation of the law.

But the Texas court found “that the plain meaning of the term sex as used in [a regulation relating to sex-segregated school restrooms] when it was enacted by DOE following passage of Title IX meant the biological and anatomical differences between male and female students as determined at their birth” and not the gender students identify with.

O’Connor ruled that a temporary injunction was appropriate in the multi-state case, one of two that are currently before federal courts.

“The Court concludes Plaintiffs have established that the failure to grant an injunction will place them in the position of either maintaining their current policies in the face of the federal government’s view that they are violating the law, or changing them to comply with the Guidelines and cede their authority over this issue,” O’Connor wrote.

A spokesperson for the Education Department directed questions on the ruling to the Department of Justice.

“The department is disappointed in the court’s decision, and we are reviewing our options,” a Justice Department spokesperson said in a statement.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and organizations advocating for transgender students also responded to the decision Monday.


Related reading on transgender students:

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.


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