Supreme Court to Take Up Case on Bathroom Rights for Transgender Student

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Supreme Court to Take Up Case on Bathroom Rights for Transgender Student

Imani Gandy

Gavin Grimm's attorneys at the American Civil Liberties Union have argued that his school district's bathroom policy is unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment and a violation of Title IX of the U.S. Education Amendments of 1972, a federal law prohibiting sex-based discrimination at schools that receive federal funding.

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed on Friday to take up the case of Gavin Grimm, a transgender high school student who sued Gloucester County School Board over its policy prohibiting the 17-year-old from using the boys’ bathroom during his senior year at his high school.

Grimm’s attorneys at the American Civil Liberties Union have argued that the bathroom policy, which effectively expels transgender students from communal restrooms and requires them to use “alternative … private” restroom facilities, is unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment and a violation of Title IX of the U.S. Education Amendments of 1972, a federal law prohibiting sex-based discrimination at schools that receive federal funding.

Grimm’s attorneys asked a federal district court in Virginia for an injunction blocking the policy, but the court refused, ruling that the school board’s bathroom policy did not violate Title IX, and that the privacy interests of other students outweighed any potential harm to Grimm in using a different bathroom.

After the 17-year-old’s attorneys appealed that ruling to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, a three-judge panel in April reversed the district court’s dismissal of his claim. In backing Grimm, the appeals court relied heavily on 2014 guidance issued by the U.S. Department of Education that denying transgender students access to the school bathrooms of their choice is a violation of Title IX. The court sent the case back to the lower court for a new hearing with instructions to include consideration of the Department of Education’s guidance.

In June, the lower court granted the injunction, noting “[i]t appears to the Court from the unrebutted declaration submitted by the parties that the plaintiff is entitled to use the boys’ restroom.”

This, in turn, prompted the school board to appeal and ask that the Supreme Court issue a stay blocking the order from going into effect. The Supreme Court voted 5 to 3 in August to do so, thus maintaining the bathroom policy prohibiting Grimm from using the boys’ room until its final decision is made on the case.

The Obama administration has been far from silent in the ongoing controversy regarding bathroom policies. It sent a “Dear Colleague” letter to public schools in May advising that Title IX requires them to allow transgender students to use restroom and locker room facilities that align with those students’ gender identity. If they don’t, they risk their federal funding.

The Fourth Circuit is the highest appeals court to directly rule on the question of whether bathroom restrictions amount to unlawful sex discrimination, although there are cases regarding bathroom policies pending in courts around the country. In Texas, a federal judge blocked the administration from enforcing its bathroom guidelines in a ruling the judge said should be applied nationwide.

The Supreme Court is likely to issue a decision on Grimm’s case in spring 2017.