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Supreme Court refuses to hear transgender bathroom rights case — for now

Katie Couric and Gavin Grimm attend a National Geographic world premiere screening of "Gender Revolution: A Journey With Katie Couric" on Feb. 2 in New York City. The Supreme Court on Monday vacated a case that would have determined Grimm's right to use the restroom that correlates with his gender identity. (Brad Barket/Getty Images for National Geographic)

The Supreme Court has sent a Virginia transgender teenager's case back to a lower court without ruling on the matter.

The high court justices decided Monday not to rule — at least not immediately — on whether Title IX, which protects students from sex-based discrimination, also protects Gavin Grimm, a transgender student from Gloucester, Virginia, who was born female but identifies as a male, from transgender-based discrimination.

The case arose after the Gloucester County School Board blocked the 17-year-old student from using the restroom that correlated with his gender identity. In 2015, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the board, arguing that barring Grimm from using any restroom violates both the 14th Amendment and Title IX protections.

However, Grimm's Title IX claim became more challenging, from a legal standpoint, when President Donald Trump effectively reversed the Obama-era policy that expanded Title IX protections, which guards students from sex-based discrimination, to include transgenderism as a protected "sex."

In February, the Trump administration, refusing to defend the Obama directive, canceled a crucial hearing in a legal appeal over the transgender rule, which was put in place under former President Barack Obama.

Obama issued a highly controversial directive in May 2016, ensuring students would be permitted to use the restroom they claim is linked to their gender identity. If the rule was not obeyed, state-funded institutions risked losing federal money. Conservatives claimed the directive sidestepped Congress and imposed federal mandates unlawfully. 

In August, Texas — along with 12 other states — sued the Obama administration for unilaterally rewriting the definition of "sex" and "sex-based discrimination" to include gender identity.

"We are proud to lead a 13-state coalition against the Obama administration’s latest illegal federal overreach," Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, said in a statement at the time. "This president is attempting to rewrite the laws that were enacted by the elected representatives of the people, and is using the threat of losing federal funding to get schools to fall into line. That cannot be allowed to continue."

As a result of the lawsuit, a federal judge ordered a temporary nationwide injunction on the rule. And in October, the Obama White House appealed the injunction, which was originally scheduled for a hearing last month.

But when the Trump administration asked the court to withdraw the motion filed by the previous administration to roll back the injunction, it left the ruling that blocked the Obama-era policy in place.

The parties had argued that the Supreme Court should go ahead and rule on whether Title IX includes gender identity discrimination within "sex" discrimination regardless of Department of Education guidance on the issue, and also on the palintiff's 14th Amendment claim. However, the Supreme Court disagreed, and directed the parties to completely re-brief and re-argue the issue in light of the changed administration guidance.

Now, given the Supreme Court's decision to vacate Grimm's case, the lower court will have to determine whether federal law — and not just a White House's interpretation of that law — sees discrimination based on gender identity as tantamount to sex-based discrimination.

In a statement on the court's Monday decision, the ACLU argued Title IX does offer protections to transgender students and said it is "disappointed" the Supreme Court sent the issue back to the lower court.

"This is a detour, not the end of the road, and we’ll continue to fight for Gavin and other transgender people to ensure that they are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve," said Joshua Block, senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s LGBT Project and lead counsel for Grimm.

See the full statement:

One last thing…
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