Idaho Gov. Brad Little (R) has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a lower court’s decision finding that the state was required to pay for a transgender inmate’s gender confirmation surgery.
Little has previously balked at the concept that Idaho taxpayers could potentially be forced to pay for the procedure, which lawyers for 31-year-old transgender woman Adree Edmo say is medically necessary to treat her gender dysphoria.
Enlisting the help of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Edmo sued the Idaho Department of Corrections and its medical provider, Corizon, in 2017, claiming that the department’s refusal to provide her with gender confirmation surgery caused her significant distress, leading her to attempt self-castration and begin cutting herself to relieve emotional pain.
Edmo also claimed that the denial of care violated her Eighth Amendment right to be free from “cruel and unusual punishment.”
In December 2018, U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill ruled in Edmo’s favor and ordered the Idaho Department of Corrections to provide the surgery.
But Little, on behalf of the state, appealed the decision to the 9th Circuit. In August 2019, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that denying the surgery amounted to cruel and unusual punishment, because Edmo’s gender dysphoria is so severe it impairs her ability to function.
“Our court and others have been considering Eighth Amendment claims brought by transgender prisoners for decades,” the court wrote in its opinion. “During that time, the medical community’s understanding of what treatments are safe and medically necessary to treat gender dysphoria has changed as more information becomes available, research is undertaken, and experience is gained.”
Lawyers for the state of Idaho petitioned the 9th Circuit to demand the case be reheard by the full court, but the court rejected that request, which prompted this current appeal to the Supreme Court. In a news release, Little noted that 10 judges on the 9th Circuit dissented from the refusal to rehear the case with one of those dissents calling the three-judge panel’s decision “as unjustified as it is unprecedented,” reports the Idaho Statesman.
“The 9th Circuit’s decision goes against the text and original meaning of the Eighth Amendment and contradicts more than four decades of Supreme Court precedent,” Little said in a statement. “We will vigorously litigate the 9th Circuit’s unprecedented ruling at the Supreme Court because the taxpayers of Idaho should not have to pay for a procedure that is not medically necessary.”
The state has also filed a motion asking the high court to stay the lower court’s order requiring the surgery until the appeal can be resolved.
In order for the Supreme Court to take up the case, four of the nine justices on the court must agree to hear it.
“This is yet another delay tactic by Idaho, which continues to deny medically needed care to Adree Edmo solely because she is transgender,” Amy Whelan, a senior staff attorney with the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said in a statement responding to Idaho’s petition.
“There is no basis for Supreme Court review of this case,” Whelan continued. “As every lower court has recognized, prison officials can’t pick and choose whom to provide care. We are hopeful the Supreme Court will reject this petition and that Adree will receive the care that she has now been wrongly denied for many years.”
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