Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and officials in 10 other states on Wednesday filed a lawsuit in federal court resisting the Obama administration's policies advancing transgender rights, including the recent guidance that instructs schools to let transgender students use bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity.
Among the defendants in the lawsuit are the Education, Justice, and Labor departments, as well as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
"Defendants have conspired to turn workplaces and educational settings across
the country into laboratories for a massive social experiment, flouting the democratic process, and running roughshod over commonsense policies protecting children and basic privacy rights," says the complaint filed in U.S. district court in Northern Texas.
The suit argues that the Obama administration has overreached by interpreting civil rights laws that ban discrimination on the basis of sex to also cover transgender people.
"Defendants’ rewriting of Title VII and Title IX is wholly incompatible with Congressional text," the states say.
In response, Justice Department spokeswoman Dena Iverson said in a statement to BuzzFeed News that “while the Department will review the complaint, the federal government has strong legal foundations to uphold the civil rights of transgender Americans.”
In addition to Texas, the plaintiffs include Alabama, the Arizona Department of Education, Georgia, Louisiana, Maine Gov. Paul LePage, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
Also named are the Harrold Independent School District in Texas and the Haber-Overgaard Unified School District in Arizona.
Conservatives have coalesced in recent months around opposing transgender nondiscrimination policies, both locally and nationally, arguing the rules create safety risks for women and girls in bathrooms.
However, there are no documented examples of transgender nondiscrimination policies facilitating or legalizing nefarious activity in bathrooms in the United States — despite being implemented in many cities, states, and federally regulated venues.
The guidance issued to public schools on May 13 instructs publicly funded education institutions to allow transgender students use facilities consistent with their gender identity in a wide range of settings, such as restrooms, dorms, and sports venues.
The move was the latest of many from the Obama administration advancing the view that sex discrimination bans in existing civil rights laws include a ban on anti-transgender discrimination.
For several years, the Obama administration has asserted that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the Education Act of 1972 — which ban discrimination on the basis of sex — ban gender identity discrimination, or anti-transgender discrimination, as a form of sex discrimination.
In 2012, the EEOC began the moves with a ruling in a complaint brought by Mia Macy against the federal government. She alleged the she was denied a job based on anti-transgender discrimination and asserted the Title VII bars such discrimination. The EEOC agreed, citing a growing number of court decisions reaching the same conclusion and prior Supreme Court decisions barring sex-stereotyping, allowing her complaint to proceed.
In 2013, officials in the Education and Justice departments announced a settlement agreement that resolved a complaint filed on behalf of a transgender student who faced discrimination a California school district.
The next year, federal officials issued guidance under Title IX that protects students on the basis of gender identity in cases of sexual violence and the Justice Department announced it was backing the EEOC's view of Title VII.
Since then, the agencies have advanced the Title IX interpretation by pushing several school districts into compliance. In courts — again citing Title IX — federal attorneys filed an amicus brief before the 4th Circuit Court in October backing a transgender boy trying to overturn a Virginia county school district’s policy. The court found in April that the department could apply Title IX that way.
The most recent guidance states that “a school must not treat a transgender student differently from the way it treats other students of the same gender identity. The Departments’ interpretation is consistent with courts’ and other agencies’ interpretations of Federal laws prohibiting sex discrimination.”
But the states argue that the bans on sex discrimination in civil rights laws were never intended to cover gender identity when Congress passed them decades ago. Further, they argue, enforcing the federal government’s more recent interpretations of those laws to protect transgender people violates the Administrative Procedure Act and they attempt to abrogate the states’ sovereign immunity.
The states are asking the court to declare that the transgender protections exceed federal authority and to block federal officials from enforcing them.
Read the complaint:
Dominic Holden is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Dominic Holden at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chris Geidner is the legal editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC. In 2014, Geidner won the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association award for journalist of the year.
Contact Chris Geidner at email@example.com.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.