By David Montgomery and Alan Blinder
The Obama administration on Wednesday faced its first major challenge to its directive this month about the civil rights of transgender students in public schools, as officials in 11 states filed a lawsuit that tested the federal government’s interpretation of the statute forbidding sexual discrimination.
The states, including Alabama, Georgia, Texas and Wisconsin, brought the case in a Federal District Court in North Texas and said that the Obama administration had “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 common sense policies protecting children and basic privacy rights.”
The challenge by the states, most of which are led by Republican governors, came 12 days after civil rights lawyers from the Department of Education and the Justice Department issued what they described as “significant guidance” about how schools should accommodate transgender students to remain in compliance with federal law. A school, the Obama administration lawyers wrote, “must not treat a transgender student differently from the way it treats other students of the same gender identity.”
The government said that a school had an obligation “to provide transgender students equal access to educational programs and activities even in circumstances in which other students, parents or community members raise objections or concerns.” The officials added that “the desire to accommodate others’ discomfort cannot justify a policy that singles out and disadvantages a particular class of students.”
The guidance provoked an uproar among conservatives, who said that the Obama administration had gone beyond settled law about discrimination in the United States, and it fed into the rapidly escalating national battle about transgender rights.
Wednesday’s litigation opened yet another front in the nation’s courtrooms. This month, the Justice Department and the State of North Carolina sued each other about a state law that curbed public restroom access for transgender people.
The guidance at issue in the Texas litigation become public soon after, and the state officials said Wednesday that the federal government had gone “so far beyond any reasonable reading of the relevant congressional text such that the new rules, regulations, guidance and interpretations functionally exercise lawmaking power reserved only to Congress.”
“This represents just the latest example of the current administration’s attempts to accomplish by executive fiat what they couldn’t accomplish through the democratic process in Congress,” Attorney General Ken Paxton of Texas said in a statement. “By forcing through his policies by executive action, President Obama excluded the voice of the people. We stand today to ensure those voices are heard.”
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit include nine states — Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin — as well as the governor of Maine, Paul R. LePage; the Arizona Department of Education; and school districts in Arizona and Texas.
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