Biden Administration Loses Bid To Revive Legal Protections For LGBTQ Students

Legal Protections LGBTQ Students

A U.S. appeals court on Friday rejected President Joe Biden’s administration’s bid to revive its directive requiring schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms and join sports teams that align with their gender. This directive has faced blocking in 20 Republican-led states.

In a 2-1 ruling, a panel of the Cincinnati, Ohio-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the states’ argument that the 2021 U.S. Department of Education guidance improperly imposed new legal duties on public schools that do not exist in federal law. The 6th Circuit criticized the department for not following the proper procedures for making new rules and did not address whether a federal law banning sex discrimination in education extends protections to LGBTQ students.

The court upheld a Tennessee federal judge’s 2022 decision, which blocked enforcement of the guidance against the 20 states, including the public universities they operate, pending the outcome of their lawsuit. The Department of Education and the office of Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti, a Republican, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

An association of Christian schools and a female student-athlete from Arkansas joined the states’ challenge. Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative group representing them, praised the ruling in a statement. Matt Bowman, a lawyer with the group, stated, “The Biden administration’s radical push to redefine sex threatens the equal opportunities that women and girls have enjoyed for 50 years.”

On Tuesday, a federal judge in Texas blocked the guidance from being enforced in that state, saying it improperly rewrote the anti-discrimination law. The judge remarked that the guidance “shockingly transforms American education.”

The Education Department issued the guidance in response to a landmark 2020 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, which stated that the federal law banning workplace sex bias extended protections to LGBTQ workers. The department argued that the same logic applied under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, as both laws use similar language. In April, the department adopted formal, binding regulations extending Title IX’s protections to LGBTQ students, which are not affected by Friday’s ruling.

However, a federal judge in Louisiana on Thursday blocked the new rule from being enforced in four Republican-led states, stating that it subverts Title IX’s purpose of “protecting biological females from discrimination.”

In their lawsuit over the guidance, Tennessee and other states claimed that the department had no authority to extend the Supreme Court ruling to Title IX. The 6th Circuit on Friday rejected various procedural claims by the Biden administration, including that the states led by Tennessee could not show that the non-binding guidance documents would cause them injury. Circuit Judge John Nalbandian, joined by Circuit Judge Joan Larsen, wrote that the guidance exposes the states to lawsuits and the loss of federal funding, which is enough to allow them to pursue the case. Both judges are appointees of Republican former President Donald Trump.

In a dissenting opinion, Circuit Judge Danny Boggs argued that the states lacked standing to sue because the guidance documents were informal “policy statements” that courts cannot review. Boggs was appointed by Republican former President Ronald Reagan.