Biden administration loses bid to revive legal protections for LGBTQ students

By Daniel Wiessner

(Reuters) -A U.S. appeals court on Friday rejected a bid by President Joe Biden's administration to revive its directive that schools allow transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms and to join sports teams that align with their gender, which has been blocked in 20 Republican-led states.

A panel of the Cincinnati, Ohio-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a 2-1 ruling agreed with the states that the 2021 U.S. Department of Education guidance improperly imposed new legal duties on public schools that do not exist in federal law.

The 6th Circuit said the department had not followed the proper procedures for making new rules and did not address whether a federal law banning sex discrimination in education extends protections to LGBTQ students.

The court affirmed a Tennessee federal judge's 2022 decision blocking enforcement of the guidance against the 20 states, including the many public universities they operate, pending the outcome of their lawsuit.

A Department of Education spokesperson in a statement said the agency stands by the guidance.

"Every student deserves the right to feel safe in school," the spokesperson said.

The office of Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti, a Republican, did not respond to a request for comment.

An association of Christian schools and a female student-athlete from Arkansas joined the states' challenge. Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative group that represents them, praised the ruling in a statement.

"The Biden administration's radical push to redefine sex threatens the equal opportunities that women and girls have enjoyed for 50 years," said Matt Bowman, a lawyer with the group.

On Tuesday, a federal judge in Texas blocked the guidance from being enforced in that state, saying it improperly rewrote the anti-discrimination law. The judge said the guidance "shockingly transforms American education."

The guidance was a response to a landmark 2020 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said the federal law banning workplace sex bias extended protections to LGBTQ workers. The Education Department said the same logic applied under the education law, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, because the two laws use similar language.

The department in April adopted formal, binding regulations extending Title IX's protections to LGBTQ students, which are not affected by Friday's ruling.

A federal judge in Louisiana on Thursday blocked the new rule from being enforced in four Republican-led states, saying it subverts Title IX's purpose of "protecting biological females from discrimination."

In their lawsuit over the guidance, Tennessee and the other states claim the department had no authority to extend the Supreme Court ruling to Title IX.

The 6th Circuit on Friday rejected various procedural claims by the Biden administration, including that the states led by Tennessee could not show that the non-binding guidance documents would cause them an injury.

The guidance exposes the states to lawsuits and the loss of federal funding, which is enough to allow them to pursue the case, Circuit Judge John Nalbandian wrote, joined by Circuit Judge Joan Larsen. Both judges are appointees of Republican former President Donald Trump.

Circuit Judge Danny Boggs in a dissenting opinion said the states lacked standing to sue because the guidance documents were informal "policy statements" that cannot be reviewed by courts. Boggs was appointed by Republican former President Ronald Reagan.

(Reporting by Daniel Wiessner in Albany, New York; Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi, Richard Chang, David Gregorio and Leslie Adler)