US Supreme Court lets Idaho enforce ban on transgender care for minors

By Thomson Reuters Apr 15, 2024 | 3:56 PM

(Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday let a Republican-backed law in Idaho that criminalizes gender-affirming care for transgender minors broadly take effect after a federal judge blocked it as unconstitutional.

The justices granted Republican Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador’s request to narrow a preliminary injunction issued by U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill, who ruled that the law violated the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment guarantees of due process and equal protection under the law, while the state pursues an appeal.

The Supreme Court’s order allows the state to enforce the ban against everyone except the plaintiffs who challenged it.

Acting in a lawsuit brought by two transgender girls, 15 and 16, and their parents, Winmill blocked the Idaho law, called the Vulnerable Child Protection Act, days before it was set to take effect on Jan. 1.

The law, one of numerous similar measures passed by Republican-led states in recent years, targets medications or surgical interventions for adolescents with gender dysphoria, the clinical diagnosis for the distress that can result from an incongruence between a person’s gender identity and the sex they were assigned at birth.

Healthcare professionals can face up to up to 10 years in prison for providing treatments such as puberty blockers, hormones and mastectomies that are “inconsistent with the child’s biological sex.”

The law does not prohibit such treatments for other medical conditions such as early puberty or genetic disorders of sexual development, if it is consistent with a minor’s biological sex.

“The act only regulates the experimental, dangerous and ineffective use of these procedures to try to resolve gender dysphoria by making a child’s body look more like the opposite sex,” the state said in court papers.

The plaintiffs, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, sued in federal court claiming that the law is unconstitutional because it discriminates based on sex and transgender status. The gender-affirming care the plaintiffs are receiving has improved their mental health and enabled them to become “thriving teenagers,” a court filing said.

Noting that the law bars transgender minors from medical treatments that other minors can access, Winmill blocked the law because it unlawfully discriminates based on transgender status and sex. The 14th Amendment protects “disfavored minorities” from legislative overreach, the judge wrote.

“That was true for newly freed slaves following the Civil War. It was true in the 20th Century for women, people of color, inter-racial couples and individuals seeking access to contraception. And it is no less true for transgender children and their parents in the 21st Century,” Winmill added.

The judge also held that the law violated the protection under the 14th Amendment’s due process clause for the fundamental right of parents to access generally available medical care for their children.

After the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to lift the injunction, Labrador, backed by the Alliance Defending Freedom conservative legal group, asked the Supreme Court to intervene.

Calling the plaintiffs “adolescent boys who have gender dysphoria,” Labrador told the justices in a filing: “Every day Idaho’s law remains enjoined exposes vulnerable children to risky and dangerous medical procedures and infringes Idaho’s sovereign power to enforce its democratically enacted law.”

(Reporting by Andrew Chung in New York; Additional reporting by John Kruzel in Washington)