A federal judge in Texas has blocked the Obama administration's federal policies protecting transgender students and workers, issuing a nationwide injunction against enforcement of the policies regarding restroom use.
U.S. District Court Judge Reed O'Connor in Fort Worth issued the order sought by Texas and 10 other states on Sunday. The states sued the Obama administration in May over its guidelines regarding accommodating transgender students in restrooms and facilities at public schools.
The 11 states had asked O'Connor to suspend Obama's policies — largely an interpretation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 — in a hearing held on Aug. 12.
"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,” the states' complaint stated.
In his 38-page order, O'Connor ruled that the states had standing to bring their lawsuit because the administration's "Guidelines are clearly designed to target [their] conduct."
The court found that the Obama administration's actions likely violate the Administrative Procedure Act for failing to follow proper notice and comment procedures under the law because, the court found, the policies are "legislative and substantive." Additionally, the court found that, under the text of the law, the Obama administration's interpretation is incorrect — a ruling that contradicts an earlier decision from the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in a related case challenging a Virginia school district's policies.
While the administration argued that the guidance is allowed because the use of the word "sex" in regulations implementing Title IX is ambiguous, O'Connor disagreed.
"[T]he Court concludes § 106.33 is not ambiguous," he wrote. "It cannot be disputed that the plain meaning of the term sex as used in § 106.33 when it was enacted by DOE following passage of Title IX meant the biological and anatomical differences between male and female students as determined at their birth."
Of the administration's guidance purporting to change that "plain meaning," then, he added: "A definition that confuses instead of clarifies is unpersuasive" — citing the judge who dissented from the 4th Circuit's decision for support.
In granting the states' request, O'Connor issued a nationwide injunction of the guidance, writing that "while this injunction remains in place, [the Obama administration is] enjoined from initiating, continuing, or concluding any investigation based on [its] interpretation that the definition of sex includes gender identity in Title IX’s prohibition against discrimination on the basis of sex."
O'Connor also ordered that the administration not use the guidelines or claim that they "carry weight in any litigation initiated following the date of this Order."
"The department is disappointed in the court's decision, and we are reviewing our options," Justice Department press secretary Dena Iverson told BuzzFeed News. Although Iverson would not signal either way, the administration is expected to appeal.
Paul Castillo, a Texas-based lawyer with that LGBT advocacy group Lambda Legal, told BuzzFeed News he believes an appeal is "widely expected."
In the short term, Castillo thinks the injunction will prevent federal officials from threatening to withhold federal education funds from schools that ban transgender students that match their gender identity.
However, he added, "It will not prevent private attorneys, such as Lambda Legal and the ACLU, from representing transgender students by bringing cases against schools that discriminate against them." He said other LGBT groups could file lawsuits as well.