WASHINGTON: Eleven US states sued President Barack Obama’s administration Wednesday over federal guidelines telling public schools to let transgender students use the bathroom of their choice, the latest twist in a bitter legal standoff with the White House.
The move led by Texas further escalates a national feud over an issue that has become a lightning rod both for the transgender community, and conservatives pushing back against new civil rights they perceive as a threat.
Writing to public school districts and universities on May 13, the Justice and Education Departments laid out guidelines on creating a safe environment for transgender students.
Building on existing laws against sexual discrimination, the letter asks schools to let youths use the bathroom matching their gender identity — rather than the sex on their birth certificate.
In a joint filing seeking to quash the Obama directive, the states accused the federal government of trying to rewrite laws by “executive fiat.”
Accusing the government of “running roughshod over commonsense policies protecting children and basic privacy rights,” the states urged the judge to rule the directive unlawful.
Texas is the lead plaintiff in the complaint filed in US District Court in Wichita Falls, Texas, joined by Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Maine, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin. Nine of the 11 states are ruled by Republican governors.
Although non-binding, schools that fail to comply with the Obama directive could potentially face lawsuits or reduced federal aid.
In announcing the measure, Attorney General Loretta Lynch warned that “there is no room in our schools for discrimination.”
The administration argues that gender identity is protected under Title IX, a provision under the Education Amendments of 1972 that bars schools receiving federal funding from discriminating based on a student’s sex.
The states’ filing in Texas lists the US government and several federal agencies and their chiefs as defendants.
“Defendants have conspired to turn workplaces and educational settings across the country into laboratories for a massive social experiment, flouting the democratic process and running roughshod over commonsense policies protecting children and basic privacy rights,” the complaint read.
“The letter tries to rewrite Title IX by executive fiat, mandating all bathrooms and showers open to both sexes, while simultaneously permitting different sex athletics subject to limited exceptions.”
“The new policy has no basis in law,” the complaint reads. Other Republican-ruled states, including Mississippi and Kansas, have also indicated they will ignore the guidelines.
In a hint that the so-called “bathroom wars” could be headed all the way to the US Supreme Court, the states’ complaint cited comments made by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg before she donned the black robe and joined the top court bench.
“Separate places to disrobe, sleep, perform personal bodily functions are permitted, in some situations required, by regard for individual privacy,” Ginsburg wrote in a 1975 Washington Post editorial, while serving as a professor at Columbia Law School.