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Things to know as courts and legislatures act on transgender kids’ rights

Three court rulings across the U.S. this week delved into laws restricting the rights of transgender kids, including the first time the U.S. Supreme Court has gotten involved in a ban on gender-affirming care.

Most Republican-controlled states have now banned gender-affirming health care such as puberty blockers and hormones for transgender minors, and blocked transgender girls from participating in girls sports competitions.

Most of the measures face legal challenges, and this week’s rulings went both ways. The Supreme Court said Idaho can enforce its ban against gender-affirming health for minors while lawsuits proceed. An Ohio state judge put on hold a law against health care and sports participation that was about to kick in there. And a federal appeals court ruled that West Virginia cannot keep a transgender girl from participating on her school’s track team.

Here are things to know about the court rulings and the latest legislative action.

On Tuesday, an Ohio judge blocked enforcement of a law that was to take effect on April 24, banning gender-affirming care for minors and keeping transgender girls off girls sports teams at schools.

Franklin County Judge Michael Holbrook said in his written opinion that it’s likely the law, adopted in January with a legislative override of Republican Gov. Mike DeWine’s veto, violates a requirement that the state’s laws address just one issue. He noted that lawmakers added the ban on gender-affirming care to the sports-related legislation because they were unable to adopt it separately.

The ban on enforcement is in effect for two weeks or until a judge holds a hearing for a request to halt enforcement while the case works its way through the courts.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday that Idaho can enforce its ban on providing puberty blockers or hormones to minors. The law also bans gender-affirming surgery, which is extremely rare for those under 18 anyway.

At least two dozen states have put similar bans into law in the last few years, nearly all of them challenged in court. Twenty other states are currently enforcing them.

The Idaho ruling was the first time the issue reached the Supreme Court.

But the justices did not dive into the constitutionality of the ban. Instead, they ruled 6-3 that enforcement can proceed, except against the two transgender teens who sued. And most of the justice’s written opinions dealt with judicial procedure, exploring whether it’s proper for courts to impose universal injunctions blocking laws while questions about them move through the courts.

The first ban on gender-affirming care for minors was adopted by Arkansas in 2021.

It was also the first to be blocked entirely — not just temporarily — by a federal court.

Last week, 10 judges on the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis heard arguments on Arkansas’ appeal of the ruling that blocked the law.

Circuit court appeals often take months to decide, and any ruling is likely to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has already been asked to block similar laws that are in effect in Kentucky and Tennessee.

A three-judge panel from another federal appeals court, the Richmond, Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit, ruled 2-1 Tuesday that the West Virginia’s ban against girls sports competition by transgender girls violates the rights of one teen athlete who challenged it.

The result: 13-year-old Becky Pepper Jackson, who has identified as a girl since she was in third grade, can stay on her middle school’s girls cross country and track and field teams.

Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said in a statement that the ban remains in place for others, though an ACLU-West Virginia spokesperson said it’s not clear that there are any other kids in the state are impacted by the law.

Other judges have temporarily blocked enforcement in Arizona, Idaho and Utah. But the New York City-based 2nd Circuit revived a challenge to Connecticut’s policy of letting transgender girls compete in girls sports, sending it back to a lower court last year without ruling on its merits.

At least 24 states have laws or policies on the books barring transgender girls and women from certain sports competitions, and most are enforcing them.

And some local bans are being litigated: A federal judge ruled refused to block the New York state government from taking legal action against Nassau County’s ban, which is also being challenged by a local roller derby league.

The pace of Republican efforts to pass state restrictions has slowed this year, but measures before legislatures continue to target transgender people.

On Monday, Tennessee lawmakers gave near-final passage to a bill that would require public school employees to notify parents if their student identifies in school as transgender. States including Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, North Carolina already have similar laws in place.

Last week, Alabama lawmakers advanced legislation to define who is considered a man or a woman based on reproductive systems rather than gender identity. Lawmakers in more than a dozen states also are seeking this year to codify a definition of the sexes.

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