Supreme Court sends transgender rights case back to lower court

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The US Supreme Court on Monday sent a key transgender rights case back to a lower court for reconsideration, after the administration of President Donald Trump withdrew guidance to schools that was relevant to the case.

The high court had scheduled a hearing for March 28 on a case involving bathroom rights for Gavin Grimm, a transgender high school boy in Virginia.

But on February 22, the Trump administration overturned rules set by predecessor Barack Obama requiring public schools to let transgender students use bathrooms and locker rooms matching the gender with which they identify, rather than the one on their birth certificate.

The old guidelines had interpreted the federal law banning sex discrimination in schools to include gender identity.

But the new guidance allows states and school districts to decide whether students can access bathrooms of their choice.

Monday’s decision was a setback for transgender rights activists, who will likely face a conservative majority on the top court by the time the case makes its way back for another hearing.

The high court vacated a decision by a federal appeals court based in Richmond, Virginia that had relied on the Obama administration’s interpretation of the law to find in Grimm’s favor.

Now, the appellate court will have to determine more broadly whether federal laws barring sex discrimination extend to gender identity.

– ‘Detour’ –

“While we’re disappointed that the Supreme Court will not be hearing Gavin’s case this term, the overwhelming level of support shown for Gavin and trans students by people across the country throughout this process shows that the American people have already moved in the right direction and that the rights of trans people cannot be ignored,” said Grimm’s lawyer, Joshua Block of the American Civil Liberties Union.

“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.”

It was a win, though, for Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was reported to have prevailed over Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in arguing for revoking the Obama era guidance.

In leaving it to the states to decide the fate of transgender students, Trump is enabling conservatives to write the rules in the 32 states governed by Republicans.

While affecting only a tiny slice of the American population, the issue is one that resonates strongly with Trump’s ultra-conservative base.

– Court’s shifting balance –

A new appellate court decision is likely to go back to the Supreme Court, but not during the current session.

The court currently is evenly divided between four liberal and four conservative-leaning justices.

But its conservative majority will soon be restored if Trump appointee Neil Gorsuch is confirmed by the Republican-controlled Congress to a vacant Supreme Court seat, as is likely.

Block hoped to win a landmark judgment from the Supreme Court on the model of the resounding 5-4 victory for gay marriage in June 2015.

“Unfortunately, this means that far too many trans kids across the country will be held in limbo for another 1-2 years. With the Department of Education no longer protecting them,” he said.

In leaving it to the states to decide the fate of transgender students, Trump is enabling conservatives to write the rules in the 32 states governed by Republicans.

In one anecdotal sign of the growing recognition of transgender rights, however, the clerk of the Supreme Court imposed the use of the pronoun “him” instead of “her” in briefs referring to Grimm.

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