An Idaho law meant to prevent transgender students from using school facilities that correspond with their gender identity will go into effect despite months of legal efforts to prevent its enforcement.
On Thursday, federal Judge David Nye denied a request for a preliminary injunction for Senate Bill 1100, which requires public schools to maintain two separate multi-occupancy restrooms, showers, changing facilities and overnight accommodations for students based on their sex assigned at birth.
A preliminary injunction would have prevented the law’s enforcement until the lawsuit settled. A temporary restraining order granted in August blocked the law’s enforcement, but after Thursday’s ruling, the temporary restraining order will end in 21 days.
Nye said in his ruling that extending the temporary restraining order can provide school districts time to identify and designate restrooms, changing facilities and overnight accommodations. After 21 days have passed, Senate Bill 1100 will be in effect.
The law also allows students to sue the school for a minimum fine of $5,000 “for each instance that the student encountered a person of the opposite sex while accessing a public school restroom, changing facility, or sleeping quarters designated for use by aggrieved student’s sex.”
The lawsuit was filed in federal court in July by attorneys from Lambda Legal, an LGBTQ+ rights legal organization; Munger Tolles & Olson, a California-based law firm that works with civil rights issues; and Alturas Law Group, a law firm based in Hailey.
Lambda Legal senior counsel, Peter Renn, said in an email that the ruling puts transgender students in harm’s way by stigmatizing them as outsiders.
“For years, transgender students have been able to use restrooms consistent with their gender at many schools across Idaho, without causing harm to anyone else. This law was always a solution in search of a problem. The vast majority of courts ruling on similar discriminatory laws have struck them down, and the court’s decision here is an outlier that fails to respect the equal dignity of transgender students,” Renn said.
In his ruling, Nye said the case is difficult since each party seeks to protect individual rights. The federal court cannot decide policy, he said, but it can only interpret the law and decide which approach by the Idaho Legislature is legal.
“Although it likely comes as little solace to Idaho’s transgender students who, as a result of the Court’s decision today, may have to change their routines, or who, regrettably, may face other societal hardships, the Court must stay within its lane,” Nye said.
Court says neither side has sufficient evidence of harm
In his ruling, Nye said that neither side had sufficient evidence to prove that harm will occur, despite both sides quoting evidence from medical and psychological experts.
“Even if the Court had consistent expert opinions in this case — which it does not — such would not mean it had to follow what the experts recommend,” Nye said. “The Court’s duty is legal in nature. And while science and society has much to say on these topics, the Court’s focus is on the law. ”
Nye said the Court is not convinced that the plaintiff’s can “prevail” on their claims that the law violates the equal protection clause because Senate Bill 1100 is based upon sex rather than gender identity, and because the state of Idaho is interested in protecting privacy and safety of youth at school.
Bill sponsor says law will promote safety
The Idaho Family Policy Center, a conservative Christian policy and research group, said in a news release Thursday that it celebrates the court’s ruling.
The policy center drafted the legislation and received sponsorship from Sen. Ben Adams, R-Nampa, and Rep. Ted Hill, R-Eagle.
“All students — but especially our girls — deserve safety in vulnerable places like school bathrooms, changing rooms, and showers,” Idaho Family Policy Center President Blaine Conzatti said in the press release. “We’re thrilled that the federal judge agreed with what we’ve been saying all along — that this law is constitutionally sound and protects the privacy rights of all students.”
Decision comes one month after oral argument for preliminary injunction
Wednesday’s decision comes one month after the Court held oral argument for the preliminary injunction on Sept. 13 at the James A. McClure Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in downtown Boise.
The attorneys filed the lawsuit on behalf of Boise High School’s Sexuality and Gender Alliance club, and Rebecca Roe — a seventh-grade transgender student in the Boise School District who is using anonymity in this case. The plaintiff’s are suing State Superintendent of Education Debbie Critchfield, the Idaho State Board of Education and the Boise School District.
In the lawsuit, plaintiffs claim the law violates the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the 14th Amendment and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 by singling out transgender youth for discriminatory treatment.
At the oral argument hearing, plaintiffs also argued that the law singles out transgender students and undermines school policies that were previously in place to accommodate for transgender students.
Lincoln Wilson, the former attorney representing the state of Idaho in this case, argued at the oral hearing that U.S. laws have relied on “binary” and “biological sex” as a standard to underly equal protection cases on sex discrimination.
Since the previous court hearing, Wilson resigned from his position at the Idaho Office of the Attorney General, the Idaho Capital Sun previously reported. On Oct. 6, federal court records show Deputy Attorney General James E. M. Craig will appear as a defense attorney in place of Wilson in future court proceedings.
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