A federal judge in Texas issued a nationwide preliminary injunction (temporary stop) late Sunday, which says that the Obama administration cannot enforce its directives instructing public schools to let students use whichever bathroom or locker room they prefer. The ruling came as part of a case brought against the administration by Texas and 12 other states.
The administration’s directive said that all public schools in the country should go according to an individual’s gender identity, not their sex at birth, for sex-segregated facilities such as bathrooms, locker rooms, and showers, or sex-segregated classes. The administration said that the directive was detailing proper compliance with Title IX, which protects students from sex discrimination. Institutions that violate Title IX risk losing federal funding.
The states that sued argued that when Title IX was written, it was not “believed that the law opened all bathrooms and other intimate facilities to members of both sexes,” according to court documents, and that the term “sex” meant “the biological differences between a male and female,” not gender identity. They argued that the administration changed the meaning to refer to gender identity, and did not follow proper procedure in making this change.
The administration argued that the directive is only made up of guidelines and is not legally binding. It said in a court filing that such guidelines “are merely expressions of the agencies’ views as to what the law requires.” The states argued in their own filing that they were binding, and that “enforcement patterns in various states clearly demonstrate that legal actions against those that do not comply will follow.”
Judge Reed O’Connor wrote that the administration’s guidelines were binding by nature, and did carry legal consequences. However, the administration did not follow the necessary procedure in putting the binding policy into place. Administrative law requires federal agencies such as the Department of Education and Department of Justice (which were both behind the directive) to publish new rules in the Federal Register and then have a notice and comment period so the public can respond. Since they did not do this, they were likely in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act. The court did not make an official ruling on this, it only held that the likelihood of the states succeeding on this issue made it appropriate for an injunction to be issued.
As the case is still ongoing, the preliminary injunction means that the administration cannot enforce the guidelines while it is still pending.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued the following statement after the ruling was handed down:
We are pleased that the court ruled against the Obama Administration’s latest illegal federal overreach. This President is attempting to rewrite the laws enacted by the elected representatives of the people, and is threatening to take away federal funding from schools to force them to conform. That cannot be allowed to continue, which is why we took action to protect States and School Districts, who are charged under state law to establish a safe and disciplined environment conducive to student learning.