Metro Weekly

Supreme Court Refuses to Take Up Trans Restroom Case

A court order blocking an Indiana school district from barring trans students from gender-affirming restrooms will remain in place.

Restroom - Photo: Benkrut |
Restroom – Photo: Benkrut |

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up a challenge to a federal appeals court’s ruling that stopped an Indiana school district from banning a transgender teenager from using the boys’ restroom at the middle school he previously attended. 

On Tuesday, the court refused to grant certiorari in the case, with no justices issuing a public dissent.

That means that a previous ruling by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in favor of the student, who is identified in court documents as A.C., will be allowed to remain in place while the case works its way through the courts.

The 7th Circuit’s decision, issued in August, upheld a preliminary injunction issued by U.S. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt, of the Southern District of Indiana.

By issuing the injunction, Pratt prevented the Metropolitan School District of Martinsville, which had sought to bar A.C. from the boys’ restroom when he was in middle school, from enforcing a policy that prohibits transgender students from accessing facilities affirming their gender identity.

A.C. is currently permitted to use boys’ restroom facilities at his high school.

In its ruling, the 7th Circuit had also upheld an injunction from another judge, James Sweeney II, that blocked the Vigo County School Corporation from enforcing a nearly identical policy against two other transgender teenagers seeking to access boys’ restroom facilities.

However, unlike A.C.’s case, the school district did not ask the Supreme Court to overturn the 7th Circuit’s decision. 

A number of transgender students have sued in various courts, often arguing that restrictions on restroom access violate their rights under the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause and Title IX, the federal civil rights law prohibiting sex-based discrimination in educational settings. But so far, the nation’s highest court has largely sidestepped the issue, letting the lower courts resolve the issue on their own. 

The Supreme Court’s decision not to intervene in the case leaves a “split in the circuits” when it comes to transgender restroom access. The 7th Circuit, covering Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin, and the 4th Circuit, covering Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, have, in past cases, ruled in favor of allowing transgender youth to access facilities that affirm their gender identities. Meanwhile, the conservative 11th Circuit, covering Alabama, Georgia, and Florida, has ruled in favor of school districts seeking to enforce so-called “bathroom bans.”

At some point in the future, the high court will have to affirmatively take up whether transgender individuals can access facilities that align with their gender identity. But the cases presented to the court thus far aren’t believed to be the right vehicle to merit the court weighing in.

The high court previously declined to weigh in on a similar case out of Virginia in which a federal appeals court found that then-high schooler Gavin Grimm had been discriminated against when he was barred from the boys’ restroom at Gloucester High School. 

Similarly, the high court last year declined to take up a case involving a transgender athlete’s legal challenge to West Virginia’s law barring transgender students from participating on sports teams that align with their gender identity. In June, the court declined to take up a challenge of a ruling finding that a transgender inmate’s rights were violated when she was denied hormone treatments while incarcerated. 

As reported by The Hill, at least 19 Republican state attorneys general and various right-wing political and religious advocacy groups signed onto an amicus brief arguing that the Supreme Court should take up the issue, pointing to the differing rulings from the appeals courts. 

“Not surprisingly in a diverse and divided nation, local jurisdictions have resolved this question differently,” Paul Clement, a well-known conservative lawyer who has argued more than 100 cases before the Supreme Court and who represents the Metropolitan School District of Martinsville, wrote in the amicus brief. “And not surprisingly in a litigious society, these disputes have made their way to federal courts. The federal courts have proven as divided as local school boards.”

Lawyers from the ACLU of Indiana and Indiana Legal Services praised the Supreme Court’s decision not to hear the case and keep the preliminary injunction intact. The case still has to be decided on its merits at a later point, but for now, the Metropolitan School District of Martinsville cannot enforce its ban on transgender students. 

“We’re thankful the Court allowed this momentous victory for the transgender youth of Indiana to stand,” Kenneth Falk, the legal director of the ACLU of Indiana, said in a statement. “This case is about the fundamental right of every student to a safe and inclusive learning environment, and the policy at its core is an affront to the freedom of transgender youth to be themselves.”

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