The U.S. Department of Justice, fewer than 48 hours after Sen. Jeff Sessions was confirmed as attorney general, began backing out of its support of Title IX protections for transgender students.
In a brief filed Friday, the DOJ withdrew its request for a partial stay on a Texas court ruling that prohibited the federal government from enforcing guidance from the Obama Administration that saw anti-transgender discrimination as covered by Title IX prohibitions on sex-based discrimination in schools. That stay sought to narrow the scope of the ruling to only apply to the 12 states that participated in the lawsuit in some way: Alabama, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Utah, Georgia, Arizona, Maine, and Mississippi.
The oral arguments for the partial stay, originally requested in November 2016, were scheduled for Valentine’s Day — February 14. The brief cancelled those oral arguments and signaled that the Trump administration could drop the appeal altogether.
“Defendants-appellants hereby withdraw their pending November 23, 2016 motion for partial stay pending appeal. The parties jointly move to remove from the Court’s calendar the February 14, 2017 oral argument currently scheduled for that motion,” the brief said. “The parties are currently considering how best to proceed in this appeal.”
While Sessions’ name does not appear on the brief, the reversal comes fewer than 48 hours after his confirmation. Some see this change of course as a direct reflection of Sessions’ political agenda. The newly minted attorney general has a record of opposing LGBTQ rights, earning him a zero from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). He also opposed hate crimes legislation while in the Senate, because he doesn’t think LGBTQ people “face that kind of discrimination.”
“After being on the job for less than 48 hours, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has signaled his intent to undermine the equal dignity of transgender students,” HRC President Chad Griffin told the Washington Blade. “Transgender students are entitled to the full protection of the United States Constitution and our federal nondiscrimination laws. It is heartbreaking and wrong that the agency tasked with enforcing civil rights laws would instead work to subvert them for political interests. President Trump must immediately reverse course and direct the DOJ to uphold guidance protecting transgender students.”
A Trump reversal doesn’t seem likely, however, since removing these protections was among the president’s campaign promises.
Still, while the order blocks the federal government from enforcing Obama’s directive that schools permit transgender students to use the restrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender, the Washington Blade notes that it doesn’t necessarily prevent transgender plaintiffs from successfully claiming discrimination under Title IX on their own.