Wednesday, April 20, 2016
Deferring to the U.S. Department of Education's Title IX guidelines and a January 2015 statement from the DOE's Office of Civil Rights, a Fourth Circuit panel ruled in favor of a transgender student up and against the student's school yesterday, holding that the school violated Title IX when it restricted students' bathroom use to their biological sex (rather than chosen gender identity). Ed Whelan writes at Bench Memos: "The court, in short, ruled that discrimination on the basis of gender identity is discrimination on the basis of sex, and that Title IX 'requires schools to provide transgender students access to restrooms congruent with their gender identity.'” Whelan posts a portion of Judge Paul Niemeyer's dissent which is well worth reading. Here's the money quote: "Title IX’s allowance for the separation, based on sex, of living facilities, restrooms, locker rooms, and shower facilities rests on the universally accepted concern for bodily privacy that is founded on the biological differences between the sexes."
The student's Equal Protection claim is pending before the district court thus was not at issue in the case decided yesterday. Still, Niemeyer's understanding of biological sex as the essential legal marker is in keeping with the line of Equal Protection cases that take seriously "inherent" biological difference, even as they treat "sex stereotyping" (what we'd now likely refer to as "gender stereotyping") as sex discrimination. Though I don't pretend this is a full analysis, I thought it'd be helpful to point out quickly some relevant language in the Court's decisions vis-a-vis biological difference.
Remember Justice Ginsburg writing for the Court in United States v. Virginia (1996) in which the Court struck down the historic male-only admissions policy of Virginia Military Institute: “Inherent differences between men and women, we have come to appreciate, remain cause for celebration, but not for denigration of the members of either sex or for artificial constraints on an individual’s opportunity." And Justice Kennedy writing for the Court in Nguyen v. INS (2001), upholding the INS' differential treatment of American mothers and fathers in their children's citizenship proceedings: "To fail to acknowledge even our most basic biological differences...risks making the guarantee of equal protection superficial, and so disserving it. Mechanistic classification of all our differences as stereotypes would operate to obscure those misconceptions and prejudices that are real."
For sex discrimination law to serve its function--for the rule of law to govern--sex as a legal term has to mean something in particular.