Ten additional states are suing the Obama administration as a result of the federal government declaring that they must allow transgender people to use public bathrooms that align with their chosen gender identities. These states, including Nebraska, Wyoming, Michigan and Ohio, have been added to 13 other states that are already suing the administration over the same issue.
The lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska, has been made in response to a letter sent by the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Education to states warning that they could lose federal funding if transgender people are made to use bathrooms that conform to their biological sex.
The lawsuit claims that the Obama administration’s move is an attempt to rewrite federal civil rights laws that do not apply to transgender people and that the administration is rewriting the definition of “sex” in “sex-based discrimination.” According to legal scholars, action from the Supreme Court or an act of Congress is necessary to make clear that gender identity is protected by federal civil rights laws.
However, the Obama administration feels that not allowing transgender people to use bathrooms assigned to the gender that they identify with is discriminatory toward a minority group.
In its letter, the Obama administration cited prohibitions on sex discrimination in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which concerns employment, and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which applies to federally funded schools. School funding can be taken away as a penalty for violating Title IX.
However, as reported by Huffington Post, states that have put forward the lawsuit are asking the judge handling the case to temporarily block the administration from enforcing its interpretation of federal law until the outcome of the lawsuit has been settled.
President Barack Obama recently defended the directive in an interview with Buzzfeed:
“We’re talking about kids, and anybody who’s been in school, been in high school, who’s been a parent, I think should realize that kids who are sometimes in the minority—kids who have a different sexual orientation or are transgender—are subject to a lot of bullying, potentially they are vulnerable”.
Meanwhile, Nebraska’s Attorney General Doug Peterson has said that the Obama administration’s action “circumvents… established law by ignoring the appropriate legislative process necessary to change such a law.” He also claimed that this was a case of “an agency going beyond its authority and impacting the state.”
However, as politico.com reports, Joshua Block, an attorney with the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project, has pointed out that the administration’s directive is non-binding. The lawsuits, he says, are purely political.
Block characterized the lawsuits as frivolous:
“Disagreeing with the Obama administration’s interpretation of the law doesn’t give [these states] standing to sue over it.”
Texas Attorney Genereal Ken Paxton, meanwhile, has heavily criticized the directive by saying that it was “a gun to the head” that threatens the independence of school districts to handle the issue within their own means, as reported by the Washington Post.
The Nebraska Department of Education is expected to receive $332 million in federal funding for the fiscal year of 2016-17, $312 million of which will go to local school districts.
The full list of the states joining the newest legal action includes Nebraska, Arkansas, Kansas, Michigan, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Wyoming.