Federal judge blocks Obama decree on bathrooms for transgender students

From The Dallas Morning News

By Tom Benning

A federal judge has blocked the Obama administration's transgender guidelines for public schools, siding late Sunday with Texas and a dozen other states that challenged the contentious instructions.

U.S District Judge Reed O'Connor of Fort Worth, in issuing a nationwide preliminary injunction, said that federal officials didn't follow proper procedures in creating the directives. Further, he said the guidelines contradicted existing statutes and regulatory texts.

The decision comes as a blow for the Obama administration, which had said that schools should allow transgender students to use bathrooms that match their gender identity.

Federal officials had defended their interpretation that the word "sex" in anti discrimination statutes also covers "gender identity." They also argued that the lawsuit was filed too soon, since there the transgender policy isn't binding and since enforcement action hasn't been taken.

Attorneys representing Texas said that the guidelines "hold a gun to the head" of local school districts. And Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said on Monday that he was pleased with the decision "against the Obama administration's latest illegal federal overreach."

"This President is attempting to rewrite the laws enacted by the elected representatives of the people, and is threatening to take away federal funding from schools to force them to conform," Paxton said in a news release.

But transgender advocates - stressing that the order doesn't prevent schools from having the policies encouraged by the federal government - said the ruling was a just a temporary setback.

"One judge in a district court is simply a bump on the road," said Paul Castillo, a staff attorney for Lambda Legal, an LBGT rights group that filed a "friend of the court" brief in this case. "Any adverse decision on this is an outlier, based on other decisions that have been issued."

The preliminary injunction, which comes as school starts in Texas, applies all across the country. But other courts in the U.S. have tackled the question differently, and even O'Connor cautioned in his order that "resolution of this difficult policy issue" is not final.

"This case presents the difficult issue of balancing the protection of students' rights and that of personal privacy when using school bathrooms, locker rooms, showers, and other intimate facilities, while ensuring that no student is unnecessarily marginalized," he wrote.

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