The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to review a federal court decision ordering the Idaho Department of Corrections to provide gender confirmation surgery to a transgender inmate in its custody.
Adree Edmo, a Native American transgender woman who has been in the custody of the Department of Correction since 2012, sued the department and Corizon Health, which contracts with the department to provide medical services, in 2017, after she was denied gender confirmation surgery to treat her gender dysphoria.
Edmo, who had attempted self-castration twice due to her feelings of gender dysphoria, claimed that the department's refusal to allow her to receive the surgery was a form of cruel and unusual punishment that violated her rights under the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
In December 2018, a federal judge ruled in Edmo's favor, ordering the Idaho Department of Correction to pay for Edmo to receive the surgery. Gov. Brad Little appealed the decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the lower court's ruling in August 2019.
State officials then appealed the U.S. Supreme Court, but it refused a request to issue an order blocking Edmo from receiving the surgery, which she successfully obtained in July.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court refused to review the lower court's decision, with only Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas dissenting, arguing that the case “is moot” and that the lower court decision should be vacated.
Because the high court refused to hear the case, the 9th Circuit's decision stands, meaning that other transgender inmates now have a precedent to point to when mounting their own challenges against so-called “freeze-frame” prison policies prohibiting inmates from receiving treatments that assist in a person's gender transition.
Lawyers for Edmo celebrated the decision, even though the surgery was a fait accompli.
“The Supreme Court's decision reinforces that state officials cannot pick and choose which serious medical conditions they will treat,” Lori Rifkin, the lead attorney for Edmo, said in a statement. “Intentionally depriving someone of medically necessary care amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, regardless of gender identity.”
“A state cannot subject people in its custody to cruel and unusual punishment, including by failing to treat serious medical conditions,” Amy Whelan, a senior staff attorney for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, added. “This ruling is in line with longstanding medical evidence and with legal rulings across the country that it is dangerous and unconstitutional to deny transgender people access to medically necessary care in prison.”
Edmo said she was grateful that the Supreme Court upheld the 9th Circuit's ruling, saying that the pressure and inner turmoil she felt prior to receiving the surgery has been resolved.
“I feel whole and connected in myself. The surgery itself was literally life-changing,” Edmo said in a statement. “I'm extremely grateful that I finally received the treatment.”
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