U.S. Supreme Court Agrees to Take Up Issue on Transgender Rights


The Supreme Court agreed Friday to take up the controversial issue of transgender rights, instantly transforming what had loomed as a holding-pattern term with only eight justices into one featuring another major social policy issue.

The justices will consider a Virginia school district’s challenge to Obama administration regulations requiring that schools allow transgender students to use restrooms matching their chosen gender, rather than birth gender.

A federal appeals court ruled in April for high school student Gavin Grimm in one of several lawsuits challenging the Department of Education rule. The justices could have sidestepped the issue pending action by other appellate courts but decided to wade in now. The case is likely to be heard by April and decided by late June.

Grimm, a 17-year-old high school senior in Gloucester County, Virginia, identified as a boy several years ago and eventually sought to use the boys’ bathroom in school. He is represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, whose legal director, Steven Shapiro, said, “We want to get it resolved for his benefit as fast as we can.”

But 23 states, including North Carolina and Texas, have challenged the administration’s right to interpret its own regulations without legislative action or judicial review. And several conservative justices have argued in the past that agencies have no such power.

The justices in August blocked the lower court’s ruling from taking effect while they considered hearing the case. By agreeing to do so now, they likely are hoping that a ninth justice will be confirmed by the time the case is heard. But with Senate Republicans blocking President Obama’s nomination of federal appeals court Judge Merrick Garland, that is far from guaranteed.

If the court goes forward with only eight justices, it could produce a tie vote that leaves the lower court’s decision intact. That would be a victory for Grimm and the ACLU, but without national precedent.

The battle over so-called bathroom bills has played out in many states as conservative lawmakers seek to force students to use facilities that correspond to their gender at birth, and transgender students fight for the right to follow their gender identity.

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SOURCE: USA Today, Richard Wolf