After the Supreme Court said it will not hear the case of transgender teen Gavin Grimm, who is seeking permission to use school restrooms that corresponds to his gender identity, the next step is back to Virginia.
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The Court’s order sends the case back to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, in light of a guidance document issued by the Department of Education and Department of Justice in February, prompted by the Trump administration. That document withdrew earlier Obama administration guidance that schools were required to provide students access to sex-segregated facilities, consistent with their gender identity, to receive federal funds.
Josh Block, one of Grimm’s attorneys, said the Court's decision "holds transgender kids in limbo for one or two more years."
Transgender advocates expressed disappointment with their decision.
"It is regrettable that the issue of equality for transgender Americans will not be heard by the highest court of the land," Mara Keisling, Executive Director of The National Center for Transgender Equality, said in a statement. "We are, however, confident that the Court of Appeals will again conclude —- as most courts have —- that gender discrimination laws like Title IX protect transgender students and forbid schools from singling them out."
The history of the case:
On behalf of Grimm, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued the school board in Gloucester County, Virginia, where Grimm is current a student. The 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 Grimm 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," Block said. A district court sided with the school board and dismissed Grimm’s claim under Title IX.
Grimm took the case to the 4th Circuit, which sided with the teen.
The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, based in part on the Fourth Circuit's interpretation of the Obama administration guidelines.
Citing Title IX, the May 2016 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, authored by the Obama administration, was rescinded by the Trump administration, which said the guidance did not explain how it was consistent with the law.
The Supreme Court decision sends the case back to the Fourth Circuit, which will have to consider whether Title IX's ban on sex discrimination extends to gender identity.
"The Supreme Court decision matters less than the Department of Education pulling the guidelines," said Maxine Ericher, a law professor at the University of North Carolina. "The courts are back to interpreting things from scratch."
In the absence of guidelines, she added, the case becomes "murkier" for the courts to decide.