A federal judge on Sunday blocked the Obama administration from enforcing new guidelines that were intended to expand restroom access for transgender students across the country.
Judge Reed O’Connor of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas said in a 38-page ruling, which he said should apply nationwide, that the government had not complied with federal law when it issued “directives which contradict the existing legislative and regulatory text.”
O’Connor said that not granting an injunction would put states “in the position of either maintaining their current policies in the face of the federal government’s view that they are violating the law, or changing them to comply with the guidelines and cede their authority over this issue.”
While the judge’s ruling could rein in federal enforcement of the guidelines, it does not change Washington state law.
A spokesman for the Washington state attorney general’s office said that the ruling means the federal government cannot enforce certain civil rights protections for transgender students and employees anywhere in the country, including in Washington. But the order does not apply to civil rights enforcement by state or local government agencies. In Washington, state laws already prohibit schools, places of public accommodation, and employers from discriminating based on gender identity, so people who experience such discrimination still have a way to seek relief in Washington, the spokesman said.
The Texas judge’s order, in a case brought by officials from more than a dozen states, is a victory in the continuing legal battles over the restroom guidelines, which the federal government issued this year.
The Obama administration’s assertion that the rights of transgender people in public schools and workplaces are protected under existing laws against sex discrimination has been condemned by social conservatives, who said the administration was illegally intruding into local affairs and promoting a policy that would jeopardize the privacy and safety of schoolchildren.
In a statement, several civil rights organizations that had submitted a brief opposing the injunction called the ruling unfortunate and premature.
“A ruling by a single judge in one circuit cannot and does not undo the years of clear legal precedent nationwide establishing that transgender students have the right to go to school without being singled out for discrimination,” the groups — Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Texas, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the Transgender Law Center and GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders — said in their statement.
The U.S. Supreme Court has temporarily blocked a decision by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals that required a school district in Virginia to allow a transgender boy to use the boys bathrooms. If the Supreme Court takes the case and reaches a majority decision one way or another, then existing rulings by district and appeals courts could be superseded.
News Tribune reporter Debbie Cafazzo contributed to this report.