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Supreme Court reviews Tennessee law banning gender reassignment surgery for minors
Supreme Court reviews Tennessee law banning gender reassignment surgery for minors

The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to review a Tennessee state law that bans gender reassignment surgery for anyone under 18. The case will be the justices’ first opportunity to examine the constitutionality of such restrictions, which have been passed in more than 20 states since 2021.

The Biden administration asked the court to decide whether states, in consultation with their parents and doctors, can prevent transgender children from receiving treatment such as puberty blockers, which major medical groups say reduce depression and suicide rates among transgender people.

More than 100,000 transgender youth live in one of the 24 states that have banned gender reassignment medical care., A topic that has become a central theme of the country’s cultural and political division in recent years.

The Supreme Court extended job protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers in 2020, but has yet to rule on the constitutionality of lower court decisions involving transgender minors, access to restrooms or athletes.

Attorney General Elizabeth B. Prelogar, representing the Biden administration, told the judges that the uncertainty caused by conflicting lower court decisions on gender-affirming care “has grave consequences for families across the country who are forced to make weighty decisions about whether to give up their homes, jobs, schools and communities in the hope of preserving access to necessary medical care for their children, without knowing whether the bans in their state and neighboring states will be upheld or prohibited.”

Lawyers defending Tennessee’s ban told the court that the U.S. Constitution does not give parents the right to “require medical procedures for children that a state has deemed unproven and excessively risky.”

“Tennessee, like many other states, has taken steps to ensure that minors do not receive these treatments until they fully understand the lifelong consequences or until the science has advanced to the point where Tennessee may view their effectiveness differently,” said the office of Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti (R).

The major American medical organizations agree that gender reassignment treatments are safe and effective and can be medically necessary.

The justices’ decision to take up the issue comes as Republican lawmakers across the country have introduced a record number of anti-gay and transgender measures in the U.S., including laws regulating which bathrooms transgender people can use and whether pride flags can be flown in public buildings.

Young transgender people, their families and medical staff asked the court last fall to overturn a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit that upheld Tennessee law banning transgender minors in the state from accessing puberty blockers and hormones.

Civil rights activists said Monday the law violates the constitutional right to equal treatment and urged the justices to strike it down. “It is critical to recognize that for transgender youth and their families, this is not about politics – it is about the fundamental freedom to access vital health care,” Lucas Cameron-Vaughn, an attorney with the ACLU of Tennessee, said in a statement.

Skrmetti vowed to continue defending the law, which he said aims to “protect children from irreversible gender changes.”

“This case will provide much-needed clarity on whether the Constitution contains special protections for gender identity,” Skrmetti said in a statement to X.

The court is expected to hear oral arguments in the case during its next term, which begins in October. The justices are scrambling to complete their work for the current term., Ten high-profile judgments are still pending this week or next week. Cases will determine whether and when Donald Trump can be prosecuted for his actions surrounding the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, access to emergency abortion care, the future of free speech on social media platforms, and more.

Legal experts have long believed that the Supreme Court must ultimately decide whether state bans on gender-affirming surgery are unconstitutional, but the court has considerable flexibility in deciding when and how to take cases.

The Tennessee case and another from Kentucky had been on the Supreme Court’s list of cases to be considered in private conference for several months before Monday’s announcement. The delay suggests the justices were debating behind closed doors how the Supreme Court should handle the issue.

In a separate April ruling, the Idaho Supreme Court allowed Idaho to largely enforce its ban on gender-affirming medical care for minors while litigation continues in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. The high court’s brief order, which said Idaho’s ban could not be applied directly to the two transgender teens suing the state, did not address the overall constitutionality of the medical care ban. The court’s three liberal justices objected to the timing of the court’s intervention. The 9th Circuit is scheduled to hear the case in August.

In the past, the Supreme Court has taken up cases where the issue at hand was of great importance and the lower courts have given conflicting judgments.

Last June, federal district courts blocked bans in Tennessee and Kentucky, just months after the laws were passed. The 6th Circuit overturned them. The judges issued preliminary injunctions on the grounds that the state bans did not violate the equal treatment or due process principles of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Also last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta ruled that a ban could go into effect in Alabama. In February, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in Illinois temporarily left the ban in effect in Indiana while the legal battle continues.

The Biden administration asked the Supreme Court to take up the issue, saying Tennessee state law discriminates based on transgender status: it prohibits treatment only for transgender people suffering from gender dysphoria, but allows the exact same treatments when prescribed for other purposes.

The states cannot justify banning a treatment that is “consistent with the medical consensus and which the affected youth, their parents and their physicians believe is appropriate and essential to their well-being,” Prelogar said in court documents.

The Supreme Court has won several victories for transgender rights activists in recent years. In 2020 Bostock v. Clayton Countythe court ruled 6-3 that federal labor law protections apply to millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender workers. The court also declined to review a series of cases in which lower courts had ruled in favor of transgender rights in schools, prisons, and disability protections.

Last year, the state also rejected West Virginia’s request to keep its law banning transgender girls from participating on girls’ sports teams in public schools in effect while legal challenges to it play out.

Tobi Raji contributed to this report.

By Liam