Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Mark Rienzi on the Transgender Cases at SCOTUS

Mark Rienzi (CUA and Becket) has shared with Mirror of Justice the following report and analysis:

Transgender cases hit SCOTUS

This week, the Supreme Court is set to consider several cases dealing with the hot-button topic of gender transitions for minors.  Although this has been a major political firestorm for the last couple of years, SCOTUS has largely stayed out of the fray.  The Bostock decision established the right for transgender employees to be free from certain types of discrimination on the job. The Court has so far avoided ruling on Title IX’s application to transgender students, dismissing one case as moot and waiting to weigh in on state laws requiring students to play on sports teams aligned to their natal sex, not current gender identity.

But sooner or later, the Court will have to weigh in on the limits of Bostock, as well as the national controversies over how far parents, schools, and doctors should go in supporting gender transitions for minors.

A trio of cases at Friday’s conference presents a surprising contrast in how state officials handle these issues.

First, the Solicitor General and a group of parents, represented by the ACLU, have asked the Court to consider challenges to laws banning medical transition procedures for minors. Tennessee and Kentucky (along with numerous other states) have banned such procedures, and the challenges to their laws have now reached the court. The A­­CLU has asked the Court to consider its parental rights argument. The SG has taken a different tack, asking the Court to focus on whether the bans violate the Equal Protection Clause as an impermissible sex-based classification.  The states have argued there is not yet a circuit split, citing the Eight Circuit’s pending en banc decision on a similar law in Arkansas. Whether the Court takes this set of cases or waits for a later opportunity, it seems inevitable that the nationwide controversy will eventually end up at SCOTUS.

A third petition raises a troubling question of parental rights in Indiana. Indiana is among the states that have banned such medical procedures for minors, but state officials nonetheless removed a teenager from his parents’ custody because they refused to use his preferred pronouns and agree to treat him as a girl. In M.C. and J.C. v. Indiana Dep’t of Child Services, Mary and Jeremy Cox have appealed the state’s decision to remove their teenage son from their home and place him in a home where “she is [ac]cepted for who she is.” The state refused to return the teen to his parents, even after an investigation showed that all allegations of abuse and neglect were unsubstantiated. The court pointed to an eating disorder and reasoned that, if the child were returned to his legally fit parents, he would experience distress due to the disagreement over gender. That was grounds to keep him out of his parents’ home until he turned 18.

The Coxes kept appealing, hoping their son might come home, but Indiana and its courts refused to return the child.  Now they have asked the Supreme Court to review their case, hoping to overturn a decision that could continue to have dire consequences for their family and put them at risk of further state intervention for their younger children. Our team at Becket is proud to represent them. But Indiana, confoundingly, continues to defend the decision. The state reasons that because it succeeded in keeping A.C. from his parents until he turned 18, his case is now moot. It’s a dangerous argument that would set a dangerous precedent nationwide: parents lose their legal recourse against state officials who take a teen away, since teens will soon reach the age of majority and their cases will be moot, too.

It’s not just Indiana. California and Minnesota have passed laws which allow state courts to take jurisdiction over minors for the purpose of allowing them to receive medical interventions for their transitions. Maine is considering a similar law. Washington state has passed a law that allows teens to effectively emancipate themselves by going to shelters which will help facilitate social and medical transitions—it’s then up to the state, not the parents, how long the teens can stay. The state doesn’t even have to notify the parents of the child’s whereabouts.

The Supreme Court will soon have to decide the rights of loving parents who don’t support a child’s desire to engage in a social or medical transition.  It should do so now, not years from now, when more families have been torn apart. And the Coxes’ case presents an unusually strong scenario: the state admits the parents are fit, so there are no overlapping issues about state law on abuse. The fact that A.C. has turned 18 makes the case an especially clean vehicle—there is no danger of changed circumstances once the Court grants cert. 

These disturbing cases will only continue to multiply until, and unless, parental rights are established. Loving families should not have their children removed because the parents disagree with state officials about gender.


Garnett, Rick | Permalink