US judge grants nationwide injunction to halt Obama transgender policy

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Texas Judge Blocks Obama's Transgender Rules

AUSTIN, Texas, Aug 22 (Reuters) - A U.S. judge blocked an Obama administration policy that public schools should allow transgender students to use the bathrooms of their choice, granting a nationwide injunction sought by 13 dissenting states just in time for the new school year.

While a setback for transgender advocates, the ruling is only the latest salvo in a larger legal and cultural battle over transgender rights that could be headed toward the U.S. Supreme Court.

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Following milestone achievements in gay rights including same-sex marriage becoming legal nationwide in 2015, transgender rights have become an increasingly contentious issue in America, with advocates saying the law should afford them the same rights extended to racial and religious minorities.

U.S. District Court Judge Reed O'Connor of the Northern District of Texas, an appointee of Republican President George W. Bush, issued a nationwide injunction siding with the 13 states and blocking the Obama administration's bathroom guidelines on Sunday, the evening before students in much of Texas and some of the other affected states were due back in school.

O'Connor found the federal government failed to provide states sufficient notice and opportunity for comment before issuing the guidelines. He also said the guidelines had the effect of law and contradicted existing legislative and regulatory texts.

The U.S. Justice Department has said the guidelines issued in May were non-binding with no legal consequences.

More on the transgender bathroom policy in North Carolina

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North Carolina transgender bathroom law, protests, LGBT rights
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North Carolina transgender bathroom law, protests, LGBT rights
In this photo taken Thursday, May 12, 2016, signage is seen outside a restroom at 21c Museum Hotel in Durham, N.C. North Carolina is in a legal battle over a state law that requires transgender people to use the public restroom matching the sex on their birth certificate. The ADA-compliant bathroom signs were designed by artist Peregrine Honig. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Opponents of House Bill 2 protest across the street from the North Carolina State Capitol in Raleigh, N.C., Monday, April 11, 2016 during a rally in support of the law that blocks rules allowing transgender people to use the bathroom aligned with their gender identity. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
A police officer confronts a lady holding a sign at the North Carolina State Capitol in Raleigh, N.C., Monday, April 11, 2016, during a rally in support of a law that blocks rules allowing transgender people to use the bathroom aligned with their gender identity. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
DURHAM, NC - MAY 10: The 'We Are Not This' slogan is posted at the entrances to Bull McCabes Irish Pub on May 10, 2016 in Durham, North Carolina. Debate over transgender bathroom access spreads nationwide as the U.S. Department of Justice countersues North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory from enforcing the provisions of House Bill 2 (HB2) that dictate what bathrooms transgender individuals can use. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)
Supporters gather at the North Carolina State Capitol in Raleigh, N.C., Monday, April 11, 2016, in support of House Bill 2, a law that blocks rules allowing transgender people to use the bathroom aligned with their gender identity. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Opponents of House Bill 2 protest across the street from the State Capitol Building in Raleigh, N.C., Monday, April 11, 2016 during a rally in support of the law that blocks rules allowing transgender people to use the bathroom aligned with their gender identity. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Two protesters hold up signs against passage of legislation in North Carolina, which limits the bathroom options for transgender people, during a rally in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, March 31, 2016. The rally drew around 100 people at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center. (AP Photos/Skip Foreman)
Demonstrators protesting passage of legislation limiting bathroom access for transgender people stand in front of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, March 31, 2016. Approximately 100 people gathered for the rally, many chanting and carrying signs. (AP Photos/Skip Foreman)
FILE - In this March 30, 2016 file photo, Human Rights Campaign Executive Director Chad Griffin, center, speaks at a news conference at the old state Capitol Building in Raleigh, N.C. Griffin was among several LGBT leaders who headed to the state to join in protests and plot strategy for trying to overturn a new law limiting bathroom options for transgender people. Stung by setbacks related to their access to public restrooms, transgender Americans are taking steps to play a more prominent and vocal role in a nationwide campaign to curtail discrimination against them. (AP Photo/Gary Robertson, File)
People protest outside the North Carolina Executive Mansion in Raleigh, N.C., Thursday, March 24, 2016. North Carolina legislators decided to rein in local governments by approving a bill Wednesday that prevents cities and counties from passing their own anti-discrimination rules. North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory later signed the legislation, which dealt a blow to the LGBT movement after success with protections in cities across the country. (AP Photo/Emery P. Dalesio)
People protest outside the North Carolina Executive Mansion in Raleigh, N.C., Thursday, March 24, 2016. North Carolina legislators decided to rein in local governments by approving a bill Wednesday that prevents cities and counties from passing their own anti-discrimination rules. North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory later signed the legislation, which dealt a blow to the LGBT movement after success with protections in cities across the country. (AP Photo/Emery P. Dalesio)
North Carolina lawmakers gather on the House floor for a special session Wednesday, March 23, 2016 in Raleigh, N.C. to consider stopping a new Charlotte ordinance set to take effect April 1 that gives protections to transgender people to use the restroom of their gender identity. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
This March 10, 2015 photo shows a PayPal sign outside of the main entrance to an office building in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Elaine Martin, right, listens as Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality NC, speaks during a press conference to announce filing of federal lawsuit challenging North Carolina's HB 2 law at the LGBT Center of Raleigh on Monday, March 28, 2016. Several different advocacy groups and some of the lead plaintiffs spoke at the event. (Chris Seward/Raleigh News & Observer/TNS via Getty Images)
Joaquin Carcano, center, the lead plaintiff in the case, speaks during a press conference to announce filing of federal lawsuit challenging North Carolina's HB 2 law at the LGBT Center of Raleigh on Monday, March 28, 2016. Several different advocacy groups and some of the lead plaintiffs spoke at the event. Joaquin was born a woman and is now a man. Simone Bell with Lambda Law is at left; Chris Brook with the ACLU is at right. (Chris Seward/Raleigh News & Observer/TNS via Getty Images)
TO GO AFP STORY BY BRIGITTE DUSSEAU - Transgender delegates Jamie Shier (L) and Janice Covington pose for photographs at the Convention Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, on September 4, 2012. The Democratic National Convention Committee announced Wednesday that US President Barack Obama would move his acceptance speech from the outdoor Bank of America Stadium to the indoor Time Warner Cable Arena due to predictions of thunderstorms. AFP PHOTO / Mladen ANTONOV (Photo credit should read BRIGITTE DUSSEAU/AFP/GettyImages)
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But they were also backed up by a threat to withhold federal education money from states that refused to comply, drawing objections from 13 states, led by Texas, that sued, saying Washington was overreaching its authority.

Some conservatives have fought an expansion of transgender right on privacy grounds or to protect states from federal government overreach.

In test cases around the country, various lower courts have differed in their interpretation on whether anti-discrimination laws apply to transgender people, potentially sending the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court for a definitive resolution.

In May, the Justice and Education departments issued guidance that public schools must allowtransgender students to use bathrooms, locker rooms and other intimate facilities of their choice rather than those matching their gender assigned a birth.

"WON'T BE THE LAST WORD"

O'Connor's ruling is "just one small part of an unfolding process," said Aaron Bruhl, a law professor at William & Mary in Virginia.

"This won't be the last word on this subject, obviously," he said. "There's a decent chance the U.S. Supreme Court could address this issue in the near future."

Katherine Franke, a law professor at Columbia University, said it was "shocking" that O'Connor had applied his injunction to the entire nation, especially since "there's an opposite decision from the 4th Circuit (Court of Appeals) and eight other lawsuits pending."

The Justice Department said in a statement it was disappointed by the decision and reviewing its options. Legal experts expected it to appeal to a higher court, likely asking for a stay that would put O'Connor's ruling on hold until the case could be litigated.

The other states in the Texas-led suit are Alabama, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Tennessee, Arizona, Maine, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Utah, Georgia, Mississippi and Kentucky. Ten other states have sued separately over the guidelines.

The office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican who frequently sues the Democratic Obama administration, said he was pleased with a decision against "illegal federal overreach."

But a group of five civil rights organizations supporting the Obama administration said legal precedent clearly protects transgender students from discrimination, which a single district judge cannot overturn.

"The court's misguided decision targets a small, vulnerable group of young people - transgenderelementary and high school students - for potential continued harassment, stigma and abuse," said the five groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal.

The judge's decision came about eight hours before Jennifer Campisi took her 9-year-old son E.J., a transgender student, to the first day of school in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. E.J. is not allowed to use the boys' bathroom and instead must use either the nurse's bathroom of the faculty bathroom.

"These policies just keep kids separate and they put unnecessary stress on parents," she said, adding that allowing transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice is the best solutions for all.

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