Congressional Republicans on Monday hailed a federal judge's decision to halt implementation of Education Department guidance that effectively requires public schools to let transgender students use the bathroom of their choice, and said the ruling is a rebuke of President Obama's "executive overreach."
"No school wants any student to be bullied or discriminated against, but the Department of Education does not have the authority to operate as a national school board and impose their specific solutions on every district," Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., said in a statement to the Washington Examiner.
Lankford has long criticized the Education Department for creating new policies by issuing "guidance" that reinterprets pre-existing laws and effectively acts as a mandate by threatening to cut funding for schools that don't comply with the update. Thirteen states echoed that complaint in a lawsuit challenging the legality of the transgender bathroom guidance.
President Obama's legal team countered that the recent guidance letters are simply "expressions of the agencies' views as to what the law requires," but the judge rejected that defense while explaining his decision to block it.
"The guidelines are, in practice, legislative rules — not just interpretations or policy statements because they set clear legal standards," Judge Reed O'Connor, of the Northern District of Texas, wrote in a Sunday order. "[T]he Court concludes [the states] have sufficiently demonstrated a threat of irreparable harm."
The states demonstrated a "substantial likelihood" of winning in their lawsuit, but the judge stressed that the case raises a "difficult policy issue" and that he isn't making a final decision in this order.
"This case presents the difficult issue of balancing the protection of students' rights and that of personal privacy when using school bathrooms, locker rooms, showers and other intimate facilities, while ensuring that no student is unnecessarily marginalized while attending school," he wrote.
"The sensitivity to this matter is heightened because [the federal government's] actions apply to the youngest child attending school and continues for every year throughout each child's educational career."
Other Republicans echoed the judge's tone when celebrating the order.
"We all agree on the rights of students to be treated with dignity and respect, but that right must also exist alongside the rights of students to maintain their privacy and safety in their own schools," said Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn. "By forcing young children into situations where they may share a bathroom with someone of the opposite biological sex, the Obama administration has failed to strike that balance and will put our students at unnecessary risk."
Lankford, who noted in May that Congress refused to put the transgender language in an education reform law that passed last year, added that it is "another executive overreach" from the president.
"Federal guidance documents should simply make regulations more clear, not create more uncertainty and regulatory control," he said. "The administration's attempt to force their ideology outside of the legal requirements, and their blatant disregard for the rule of law, must stop."