August 22, 2016
THIS IS NOT OBAMA AS THERE ARE CLEARLY NO SCARS ON HIS PUMPKIN...FILE - In this Aug. 4, 2016 file photo, President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference at the Pentagon. President Barack Obama returns from vacation rested and ready for a busy fall, including pressing Congress for Zika funding and fending off congressional attacks over the administration's $400 million "leverage" payment to Iran. Obama also plans a dogged effort to help elect Democrat Hillary Clinton as president. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin,Texas (AP) —
A federal judge late Sunday issued an order that temporarily bars the Obama administration from enforcing its position that transgender students should be allowed access to bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity.
The judge's order comes as school districts across the country are beginning to resume classes for the upcoming school year.
The order was sought by 13 states, in an attempt to halt a directive issued by the Education and Justice Departments earlier this year, which informed schools across the country that they could lose federal education funding if they force transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms according to their sex at birth.
The Obama administration has said that the federal directive, known as "guidance," is nonbinding — it is meant to clarify the law and offer the administration’s interpretation of the law.
But the administration's action prompted a furious backlash from conservatives.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, is leading a group of states in the federal lawsuit. Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin have signed on. In total, about half of the states are suing the Obama administration over the divisive issue, which many have likened to previous fights over gay marriage.
In his ruling Sunday, Judge Reed O’Connor wrote that “although Defendants have characterized the Guidelines as interpretive, post-guidance events and their actual legal effect prove that they are ‘compulsory in nature.'"
O'Connor, a judge in the Northern District of Texas, wrote that the Obama administration's actions have "drawn a line in the sand" in that districts are at financial risk if they fail to comply.
The controversy is far from settled. The Supreme Court signaled earlier this month that it’s likely to grapple with the issue when the justices put a landmark Virginia court ruling on hold. That ruling had required a Virginia school district to accommodate a transgender high school student’s request to use the boys’ bathroom. The nation’s highest court may ultimately take up the Gloucester County school board case.
The administration has sought to bolster transgender student protections through Title IX — a federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in federally funded education programs and activities. Conservatives have accused the administration of unilaterally rewriting the law so that the notion of gender is included under “sex-based discrimination.”
“This President is attempting to rewrite the laws enacted by the elected representatives of the people, and is threatening to take away federal funding from schools to force them to conform," Paxton said in a statement released after the court ruling. "That cannot be allowed to continue, which is why we took action to protect States and School Districts, who are charged under state law to establish a safe and disciplined environment conducive to student learning.”
Justice Department spokeswoman Dena Iverson said “the department is disappointed in the court’s decision, and we are reviewing our options.”
White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Monday that the administration's guidance on transgender students wasn't a mandate, although critics have described it that way. It was meant to answer questions from school districts and communities about how to handle the issue, Earnest said.
"Look, I recognize that there are people who are eager to play politics with an issue like this just a few months before a national election," Earnest said. "But the focus of the administration has been on practical problem-solving ... our goal has been from the beginning to provide for the safety and security and dignity of students all across the country."
"So, I guess the point is that we’ve got a lot of confidence in the guidance that was put forward," Earnest added. "We’ve certainly got a lot of confidence in the legal basis for issuing that guidance, but obviously we’re respectful of rulings put forward by federal judges."
The American Civil Liberties Union has worked aggressively to ensure that transgender student protections stay in place — and has filed lawsuits on behalf of some transgender students. The ACLU released a statement calling O'Connor's ruling "unfortunate and premature." The ACLU argued that the ruling does not relieve school districts of their obligation to obey Title IX.
"So let us make it clear to those districts: your obligations under the law have not changed, and you are still not only allowed but required to treat transgender students fairly," the ACLU said.