Metro Weekly

Full federal appeals court will hear case of Florida trans student barred from boys’ restroom

A decision against Drew Adams by the conservative appeals court could lead to a showdown been pro- and anti-trans forces at the Supreme Court.

Drew Adams (second from right), his mother, Erica Kasper, and his legal team – Photo: Lambda Legal.

A full federal appeals court will hear arguments in February regarding a lawsuit brought by a transgender male student who was barred from the boys’ restrooms at his Florida high school.

The Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed to take on the case of Drew Adams, a graduate of Allen D. Nease High School in Ponte Vedra, Florida, during the week of Feb. 21, reports the News Service of Florida.

Adams, who had previously been permitted to use the boys’ restroom after transitioning during his freshman year, sued the St. Johns County School Board for discrimination in 2017 after the board passed a district-wide policy that required transgender students to use either restrooms matching their assigned sex at birth, or, in lieu of that option, single-stall gender-neutral restrooms.

A federal district judge ruled in Adams’ favor, finding that his presence in the boys’ restroom “pose[d] no threat to the privacy or safety of his fellow students” and that the school board had indeed discriminated against him. The school board appealed the decision to the 11th Circuit, which upheld the lower court’s decision.

In its initial opinion, a three-judge panel split 2-1, finding that the school discriminated against Adams, violating his rights under both the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, and under Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, which prohibits sex-based discrimination in educational settings. But the school board requested an “en banc” hearing, in which all the judges on the 11th Circuit would rehear the case.

Prior to the appeals court granting the request, the two judges in the majority issued a revised opinion, in which they found the school board had violated Adams’ right to equal protection under the law but did not say that the school district violated Adams’ Title IX rights.

See also: 20 Republican-led states sue Biden administration over pro-transgender restroom guidance

In their decision, Circuit Judges Beverly Martin and Jill Pryor noted that the decision was “an effort to get broader support among our colleagues.” In other words, Martin and Pryor had hoped that by issuing a narrower ruling, they could placate the conservative majority on the appeals court and avoid a rehearing of the case.

Most conservative jurists are skeptical of the idea of applying Title IX’s protections for “sex” to cover instances of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Unfortunately, the full 11th Circuit will now rehear the case, meaning the earlier decision has been vacated and the court is more likely to rule against Adams — which could potentially trigger a Supreme Court case, as there would be a “split in the circuits” following the 4th Circuit’s decision in favor of Gavin Grimm, a transgender boy barred from the boys’ restroom at his Virginia high school. The U.S. Supreme Court recently declined to hear an appeal in the Grimm case. 

A similar ruling, in favor of a transgender student, was also issued by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2017 after a transgender student, Ash Whitaker, sued his local school district in Kenosha, Wisconsin, for barring him from facilities designated for male students. After the circuit court found in favor of Whitaker, the school district agreed to settle the case out of court.

See also:

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