The American Civil Liberties Union has asked the Supreme Court to block a Tennessee law banning gender-affirming care for minors.
On Wednesday, the ACLU, along with the ACLU of Tennessee and Lambda Legal, petitioned the court to review a Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling allowing the state’s anti-trans law to go into effect. As The Hill notes, if the court accepts the case, it would be the first time the Supreme Court hears a case involving gender-affirming care.
Tennessee Republicans passed the state’s S.B. 1 in February, and it was signed into law by Gov. Bill Lee (R) in early March. In addition to banning Tennessee doctors from providing gender-affirming care, including puberty blockers and hormone therapy, to anyone under the age of 18, it also requires trans young people who are already receiving gender-affirming care to end their treatment by March 31, 2024, effectively forcing them to detransition.
Every major medical organization in the U.S. has recognized that gender-affirming healthcare — which can include puberty blockers and hormone therapy — is evidence-based, safe, effective, and can be medically necessary to treat gender dysphoria in young people.
In April, the ACLU and Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit in a federal court in Nashville on behalf of three families with transgender children and a Memphis doctor who provides gender-affirming care to block the law, arguing that that S.B. 1 unlawfully discriminates against transgender people based on their sex in violation of the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. A district court judge blocked the law from going into effect in June, but in July, the Sixth Circuit voted 2–1 to allow S.B. 1 to go into effect while the court challenged proceeded. Similarly, the Sixth Circuit ruled in August that Kentucky could enforce its own law banning gender-affirming care for minors.
Legal challenges brought by the ACLU of Kentucky and Tennessee, along with other organizations, in both cases were consolidated in July for consideration at the Sixth Circuit, which hears appeals from both states. In September, the court again voted 2–1 to uphold both laws.
In Wednesday’s legal filing, attorneys for the ACLU and Lambda Legal wrote that conflicting court decisions around laws banning gender-affirming care for minors are “creating chaos across the country for adolescents, families, and doctors.”
In addition to the Sixth Circuit decision regarding the Tennessee and Kentucky laws, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals lifted an injunction against Alabama’s gender-affirming care ban in August. Meanwhile, similar laws in Florida, Montana, and Indiana have been blocked, and Arkansas’s ban was struck downin June.
“Neither the wave of state bans on gender-affirming medication nor the lawsuits challenging them are likely to abate in the near future,” the ACLU’s petition states. “Given the division among the courts of appeals on the appropriate level of scrutiny in these and related cases, any delay in this Court’s review only risks subjecting transgender adolescents, their parents, and their doctors to a patchwork of inconsistent laws and legal standards that obstruct their medical care.”
As The Hill notes, while the Supreme Court has not yet taken up a case involving bans on gender-affirming healthcare, conservative Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas appear eager to address transgender rights. According to HuffPost, both the Sixth Circuit’s decision in the Tennessee and Kentucky case and the Eleventh Circuit’s decision in upholding Alabama’s law cited the Supreme Court’s reasoning that the federal right to abortion is not “deeply root” in the “history and tradition” of the U.S. in its 2022 decision overturning Roe v. Wade.