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Supreme Court abstains on transgender bathroom rights

April 20, 2017

The Supreme Court decided not to rule on a high-profile transgender rights case on whether public schools should allow students to use bathrooms matching their gender identities.

A hearing for the case originally scheduled for March 28 looked like it would be the biggest case of the court’s current term. However, the Trump administration rolled back federal guidance that a lower court had determined did cover transgender students using school bathrooms that correspond to the gender they identify with.

Many officials from the Obama administration, trans-rights advocates, and school officials had filed legal briefs with the Supreme Court to show their support to 17-year-old Gavin Grimm, a student who was born female but who identifies as male. The student, set to graduate in June, had sued his Virginia high school for the right to use the boys’ bathroom.

Lawyers for the Obama administration previously determined transgendered students’ bathroom access was covered under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, a law that bars sex discrimination in schools that receive federal funding. However, the direction of this case dramatically changed with the election of Donald Trump.

The Trump administration backpedaled on the Obama directive that left the decision about school bathroom use up to the personal preference of the student. Previously, the young person could chose a bathroom based on their gender identity, not based on the gender listed on their birth certificate.

The high court asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit to look at the case again and decide what to do with it now that the transgender guidance is no longer on the books. The justices did not issue any comment on the case other than their one-sentence order returning it to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit.

Since the Supreme Court returned the case to a lower court without reaching a decision, the issue of transgender rights in school settings will likely be left in limbo until sometime after Grimm has graduated from high school.

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