Eleven states have sued the Obama administration over its sweeping directive requiring all public school districts to grant transgender students access to the bathrooms that correspond with their gender identities.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced the lawsuit Wednesday on Twitter, offering the latest development in an escalating conflict over transgender rights between Republican-dominated states and an administration widely regarded as the most LGBT-friendly in history. In the past two years, the Obama administration has stipulated that it believes sex discrimination — as prohibited by Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments — covers discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity as well. That means that under federal law, LGBT people are protected from discrimination in employment and public education, as far as the Obama administration is concerned.
The complaint was filed in the United States District Court Northern District of Texas on behalf of what it refers to as "a diverse coalition of States, top State officials, and local school districts, spanning from the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes, and from the Grand Canyon to the Grand Isle." Along with the state of Texas, plaintiffs include Alabama, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Utah, Georgia, Maine Gov. Paul LePage, the Arizona Department of Education, and two individual school districts in Arizona and Texas. All but two of the 11 states involved in the suit are run by Republican governors.
The plaintiffs, the suit states, "stand behind the singular principle that the solemn duty of the Federal Executive is to enforce the law of the land, and not rewrite it by administrative fiat."
"Defendants have 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 commonsense policies protecting children and basic privacy rights," states the complaint. "Defendants’ rewriting of Title VII and Title IX is wholly incompatible with Congressional text. Absent action in Congress, the States, or local communities, Defendants cannot foist these radical changes on the nation."
Wednesday's legal action comes amid an intensifying standoff between the federal government and a different Republican-controlled state, North Carolina, which passed a law in March banning transgender people from using public school and government building bathrooms that align with their gender identities. North Carolina and the Department of Justice sued each other earlier this month, with each taking an opposing position on whether the law violates existing federal statutes barring discrimination.
The Department of Education issued guidance in 2014 clarifying that Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments, which prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded education programs and activities, also bars discrimination on the basis of gender identity. But the Obama administration went one step further two weeks ago when it directed every public school district in the country to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms matching their gender identities.
One federal appeals court — the 4th Circuit — has already sided with the Obama administration's interpretation of Title IX. But in a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who was charged with securities fraud last month in federal court, said the Obama administration had once again overstepped its authority. (Since Obama took office in 2008, Texas has sued his administration approximately 40 times.)
"Make no mistake," said Paxton. "This is no reinterpretation of terms. It's an entire rewrite of law, and that is constitutionally the purview of the Congress, not the President of the United States."
Later, in an interview on MSNBC's "MTP Daily," Paxton criticized nondiscrimination protections for transgender people more broadly, saying they open the door for predators to attack women and young girls in the bathroom. Eighteen states, plus the District of Columbia, as well as more than 200 cities already have such policies on the books. There has been no corresponding spike in bathroom-related assaults.