What's next for the transgender bathroom case before the Supreme Court

Here's what you need to know.

ByGeneva Sands
February 28, 2017, 8:11 PM

— -- Next month, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the case of Gavin Grimm, a transgender student, who has been seeking access to use the boys' bathroom at his high school.

Attorneys on both sides are required to update the court on Wednesday. Last week, the Trump administration announced an effective rollback of an Obama administration policy that extended protections against sexual discrimination to people who identify as transgender -- throwing a potential wrench in Grimm’s case before it heads to the high court.

How we got here

On behalf of Grimm, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued Gloucester County School Board. The teen is expected to graduate from Gloucester High School in Virginia this year. Grimm’s lawsuit argues that the school’s bathroom policy is unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment and violates Title IX, a federal law prohibiting sex discrimination by schools.

At first, the school allowed him to use the boys' bathroom, but after receiving complaints, the school board adopted a new policy in 2014 when Grimm was a sophomore, according to the ACLU.

“I think what happened to Gavin in the fall of 2014, was absolutely horrible and I don’t think anyone should have to go through that,” said the ACLU’s Joshua Block, who is representing Grimm in the case.

A district court sided with the school board and dismissed Grimm’s claim under Title IX.

Grimm appealed to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which sided with the teen.

However, the Supreme Court has put a hold on the circuit court decision while it takes up the case.

Meanwhile, in May 2016, the Obama administration issued federal guidance calling on all on public school districts nationwide to allow transgender students to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity.

Citing Title IX, the letter from the Departments of Justice and Education said schools should not require a medical diagnosis, nor should they demand documentation reflecting the student's gender identity before taking steps to protect transgender students -- "even in circumstances in which other students, parents, or community members raise objections."

That guidance was rescinded last week by the Trump administration, which said that the Obama administration's guidance did not explain how it was consistent with the law.

In a letter sent to schools last Wednesday, the Trump-era Departments of Justice and Education said that the Obama directive caused confusion and lawsuits over its enforcement.

Grimm’s attorney said that the case has given the teen a "sense of purpose."

“Whether that’s winning in court or through changing hearts and minds I think it’s given him a sense that he isn’t going through all of this for nothing,” said Block.

What’s next

The Supreme Court has requested that lawyers on both sides submit their views on how the case should proceed in light of the new guidance provided by the Departments of Justice and Education last week. Their letters are due at 2 p.m. Wednesday.

Grimm’s attorney said that while he’s hopeful the court will side with them, he did not have any predictions on which way the court would rule.

“I don’t have gut feelings on the case anymore. I think each step of the way this case has defied expectations," said Block. “[I] think that anyone who thinks they can predict with confidence what the Supreme Court’s going to do hasn’t been paying close enough attention.”

The attorney for the school district declined to comment ahead of filing the district's letter with the court.

What this could mean

The Supreme Court could return the case to the lower court to evaluate Grimm’s claim without the federal guidance or it could move ahead on evaluate the case based on his discrimination claim.

The Obama administration guidance that's now been withdrawn was only one issue in the case. There's still the question of what Title IX means in terms of transgender students.

"[Grimm’s] injury has not changed, and an important question remains about whether schools can discriminate against transgender students by singling them out for different bathroom rules,” said Columbia University law professor Suzanne B. Goldberg.

Goldberg added that “the bottom line” is that federal law prohibits sex discrimination which includes gender stereotyping.

“[A]nother bottom line is that transgender students still need to go to the bathroom at school with or without the Obama administration guidance,” she added.

University of North Carolina law professor Maxine Eichner said that the Trump administration's withdrawal of the guidance is "quite significant" to the case because the lower court deferred to the Obama-era Department of education guidance on this issue in its ruling.

Whether or not Title IX statute includes transgender status, is "a lot more murky" now that the Obama directive has been revoked, said Eichner.

ABC News' Luke Barr, Erin Dooley and Jack Date contributed to this story.

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