U.S. Supreme Court Cancels Transgender Bathroom Showdown

  • One-sentence order sends Virginia case back to lower court
  • Court points to Trump administration change in federal policy

U.S. Supreme Court Cancels Transgender Bathroom Showdown

The U.S. Supreme Court canceled a scheduled showdown over the bathroom rights of transgender students in public schools, sending the case back to a lower court after the Trump administration changed a pivotal federal policy.

The justices were planning to hear arguments March 28 in the case of Gavin Grimm, a transgender Virginia high school student suing his school district to get access to restrooms that align with his gender identity.

Both sides had urged the court to keep the case, with the school district suggesting the court should delay arguments and seek more input from President Donald Trump’s administration. The one-sentence order, which came without published dissent, scraps what had been the highest-profile case in the court’s nine-month term.

A federal appeals court had said the school district was probably violating U.S. civil rights law by reserving the boys’ bathrooms for “biological” males. The appellate court based its decision on an Obama administration letter that, until the new administration revoked it in February, interpreted federal law as protecting the bathroom rights of transgender students.

The new Supreme Court order throws out the appeals court ruling. The lower court will now reassess the case by directly considering what’s required by Title IX, the 1972 law that bars discrimination in schools.

Read more: The Transgender debate -- a QuickTake explainer

Gavin’s lawyer, Joshua Block of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the group was disappointed the nation’s highest court won’t be deciding the case during its current term.

"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,” Block said in an emailed statement.

The school board said it "looks forward to explaining why its commonsense restroom and locker room policy is legal under the Constitution and federal law,” according to a statement provided by its lawyer, Kyle Duncan.

Monday’s order makes it more likely the court eventually will decide the issue with a full complement of nine justices. The Senate is considering Trump’s nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to fill the court’s year-old vacancy.

Final Year

It briefly appeared that the earlier appeals court ruling would give Gavin access to the boys’ bathroom for his final year at Gloucester High School in eastern Virginia. The Supreme Court, however, put the appeals court decision on hold before the school year began.

Gavin, who was born with female genitals, has become the face of the transgender-rights movement because of his suit against the Gloucester County School Board.

The move gives the Trump administration more time to formulate its approach toward transgender students and potentially shape the case’s outcome. Although Trump’s Education Department rescinded President Barack Obama’s interpretation of Title IX, the new administration hasn’t put forward its own view of what the law requires.

Gloucester County officials argued that the lower court ruling upended a decades-old understanding that schools could have separate restrooms based on physiological gender.

Gavin, now 17, came out as transgender to his parents during his freshman year and has been attending school as a male since he was a sophomore. He’s legally changed his name, amended his birth certificate to identify him as male, and developed facial hair and a deep voice as a result of hormone therapy. He says he always uses boys’ or men’s restrooms elsewhere.

The school let Gavin use the boys’ restroom for several weeks in 2014 before the board intervened and voted to change the policy. Since then, Gavin has generally used the nurse’s restroom, though the school has since installed three single-user bathrooms. His case involves only bathrooms, not locker rooms.

The case is Gloucester School Board v. G.G., 16-273.

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