"Federal Transgender Bathroom Access Guidelines Blocked by Judge" is the headline atop a New York Times story. Here is how the case came to be, where it stands now, and why it is important:
The Constitution obligates the executive to enforce the law. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. And Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded education programs and activities.
The Obama administration thinks that under Title VII and Title IX all persons "must be afforded the opportunity to have access to restrooms, locker rooms, showers, and other intimate facilities that match their gender identity rather than their biological sex." The administration interprets "sex" in Title VII and Title IX to mean "gender identity." It has done so in various written directives called "the Guidelines."
On May 13 the administration sent schools across the country "a Dear Colleague Letter" telling them that they must "immediately allow students to use the bathrooms, locker rooms and showers of the student's choosing or risk losing Title IX-linked funding." The letter also said that employers who "refuse to permit employees to utilize the intimate areas of their choice face legal liability under Title VII."
Texas and 12 other states or state agencies responded with a lawsuit contending that the administration's interpretation of the definition of sex is unlawful since "the term sex in the pertinent statutes and regulations means the biological differences between a male and female." The coalition asked the judge in the case, Reed O'Connor of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, for a preliminary injunction that would stop enforcement of the Guidelines against Texas and the other states. This he has now granted, writing that the administration's directives "contradict the existing legislative and regulatory texts."
Texas v. United States is, of course, one of several cases in which the administration's enforcement of "gender identity" is at issue. The injunction is nationwide and will remain in effect, as Judge Reed wrote in his opinion, until the Court rules on the merits of this claim, or until there is further direction from the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The administration is studying its litigating options and would seem, from its perspective, to have more friendly ones, should it want to continue with the case.
O'Connor's opinion, however, is important inasmuch as it stands athwart the style of governance President Obama has adopted, in which, spurning the Congress, he enacts some policy or other via unilateral action. The examples are legion, but when historians turn to contemplate the Obama presidency, the effort in his last year to force upon schools "transgender bathroom access guidelines" of manifest illegality will surely be toward the top of the list.
The case itself is a reminder of the importance of federalism, and in particular the role of the states in protecting liberty. For here a group of states has joined together to secure its interests against a federal executive that is prepared to deny funds to schools if they fail to do as they are told.