The Trump administration has dropped the federal government’s challenge to a nationwide injunction issued last year that blocked the fulfillment of Obama administration guidelines stating that transgender students’ access to bathrooms and other gender-segregated school facilities was protected under existing federal civil rights law.
The injunction was issued in August by Judge Reed O’Connor of the Federal District Court for the Northern District of Texas as part of a lawsuit filed by more than a dozen states over the Obama administration’s position that Title IX, the federal law that bans sex discrimination in schools, protects transgender students.
Under that interpretation, transgender students have access to facilities like bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identity, a proposition to which social conservatives strongly object. They argue that allowing transgender students to use those facilities poses a threat to the privacy and safety of other students.
The Obama administration appealed the injunction and requested that it apply only to states involved in the lawsuit and not nationwide. Oral arguments in that case were scheduled to begin on Tuesday, but on Friday, the Justice Department withdrew the previous administration’s challenge.
“The parties are currently considering how best to proceed in this appeal,” the department said in a legal brief to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
The decision changed little in the short term because the nationwide injunction has been in effect since August, but it signaled a significant change in the government’s approach to transgender issues under President Trump. Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, called the move a “callous attack” on “the dignity and safety of transgender students.”
“While the immediate impact of this initial legal maneuver is limited, it is a frightening sign that the Trump administration is ready to discard its obligation to protect all students,” she said in a statement. “Transgender students are not going away, and it remains the legal and moral duty of schools to support all students.”
The Obama administration evolved into an ardent defender of transgender students, suing North Carolina over a law there restricting transgender people’s access to public bathrooms, locker rooms and changing rooms. In May, the administration warned public school districts that they could face lawsuits or a loss of federal funds if they did the same.
“A school may not require transgender students to use facilities inconsistent with their gender identity or to use individual-user facilities when other students are not required to do so,” officials from the Education and Justice Departments said in the letter.
The political environment has changed dramatically since then.
Sarah Warbelow, the legal director of the Human Rights Campaign, a leading L.G.B.T. advocacy group, said the Justice Department’s decision on Friday to let the injunction stand could portend its position on a closely watched Supreme Court case: a lawsuit filed by a transgender student in Virginia, Gavin Grimm, against his school district.
Mr. Grimm sued the Gloucester County School Board two years ago after it denied him access to the boys’ bathroom and told him to use a separate bathroom in a converted janitors’ closet, the kind of arrangement the Obama administration rejected in its letter to schools in May.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled in Mr. Grimm’s favor in August, pointing to the Obama guidelines on transgender students and Title IX. The school board appealed that decision to the Supreme Court, where oral arguments are scheduled to begin next month.
Ms. Warbelow said Mr. Grimm’s supporters hoped the Justice Department would file an amicus brief in support of his case, but, she added, “the fact that they chose to say they were fine with this injunction applying nationwide certainly suggest that will not be the case.”
SOURCE: NY Times, Liam Stack