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U.S. Judge Grants Nationwide Injunction Blocking White House Transgender Policy

Signs are posted outside Santee High School's gender neutral restrooms at its campus in Los Angeles on May 4.
Mark Ralston
AFP/Getty Images
Signs are posted outside Santee High School's gender neutral restrooms at its campus in Los Angeles on May 4.

Months after the Obama administration advised school districts that transgender students should be given access to bathrooms based on their gender identity, a federal judge in Texas has blocked the guidance from going into effect — for now.

U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor has granted a preliminary, nationwide injunction in response to a lawsuit filed by Texas and a number of other states.

As we've reported, the lawsuit argues that the guidance from the White House would turn schools "into laboratories for a massive social experiment."

The preliminary injunction would mean that, until that lawsuit works its way through the courts, the "status quo" would be maintained and the guidance could not be considered enforceable.

The guidance from the White House was issued in May, and addresses the Title IX requirement that schools receiving federal funding not discriminate against students on the basis of sex.

The administration says that, as the departments of Justice and Education interpret the law, transgender students must be allowed to use a bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity. Alternately, individual bathrooms can be made available to all students.

In their lawsuit, Texas and other states argue that references to "sex" in Title IX refer only to biological sex, and that the administration's interpretation is a "radical re-authoring" of the term.

The states also say that while the administration describes the documents as interpretation and guidance, they are "coercive" in practice.

In a ruling issued Sunday, O'Connor concluded that there is a strong likelihood the states will win their case, justifying an injunction in the meantime. He found that the administration didn't follow the proper notice and comment process for the guidelines.

He determined that the law is "not ambiguous," writing that "[i]t cannot be disputed that the plain meaning of the term sex as used ... following passage of Title IX meant the biological and anatomical differences between male and female students as determined at their birth."

He also said that the guidelines are "compulsory in nature."

Under his injunction, O'Connor ordered all parties to "maintain the status quo." He says the administration can't enforce the guidelines — or make any sort of investigation based on the idea that "the definition of sex includes gender identity." The White House would also be barred from using the guidelines in any lawsuits, he wrote.

ACLU attorney Joshua Block, who has worked on high-profile trans cases, notes on Twitter that the administration can request a stay of the injunction, which could be granted by an appeals court or the Supreme Court.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton celebrated the judge's order, saying on Twitter that the Obama administration "is attempting to rewrite the laws enacted by the elected representatives of the people."

Meanwhile, five civil rights organizations, including the ACLU and Lambda Legal, issued a joint statement calling the ruling "unfortunate and premature."

They addressed school districts, saying "your obligations under the law have not changed," and advising them that the injunction does not block other courts or lawyers from relying on the Obama administration's stated interpretation of the law.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Mnday that the Obama administration is confident that its guidelines are legally sound, Reuters reports.

The ruling was issued late on Sunday; as Reuters reports, the first day of school arrives this week in many districts around the country.

You can read O'Connor's order here:

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Camila Flamiano Domonoske covers cars, energy and the future of mobility for NPR's Business Desk.

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