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Federal judge blocks Biden administration’s Title IX rules in four states

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 05: Activists hold up signs as they listen during a Title IX rally at Lafayette Park near the White House on December 05, 2023 in Washington, DC. Activists and students attended the rally to call on U.S. President Joe Biden to finalize a new Title IX rule to help protect victims of sexual assault and LGBTQIA+ students on college campuses. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)  (Anna Moneymaker)
By Zach Montague New York Times

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration’s new Title IX regulations that expanded protections for LGBTQ students have been temporarily blocked in four states after a federal judge ruled that the Education Department overstepped its authority.

The order from Judge Terry A. Doughty, a district court judge in Louisiana, on Thursday placed a preliminary injunction on the enforcement of the rules in Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana and Idaho, which have all challenged the regulations.

The plaintiffs argued that the Biden administration’s interpretation of Title IX betrayed the law’s original purpose of prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex.

The new rules, which the Education Department released in April, disallow discrimination or harassment of students based on their gender identity, enshrining stronger protections for transgender students. However, the rules skirted some of the most divisive questions, stopping short of requiring schools to grant transgender students access to single-sex dorms or sports teams.

Republican attorneys general challenging the law have argued, and Doughty agreed, that the rule could violate the privacy and safety of female students by allowing “biological men who identify as a female” into facilities such as bathrooms and locker rooms corresponding to their gender identity.

The rule broadly holds that instances where schools deny students that access, or where staff members do not observe transgender students’ preferred pronouns or chosen gender identity, could create a hostile environment that the Education Department could investigate.

“Title IX was enacted for the protection of the discrimination of biological females,” Doughty wrote. “However, the final rule may likely cause biological females more discrimination than they had before Title IX was enacted.”

An appointee of former President Donald Trump, Doughty denounced the rule as an “abuse of power” and a “threat to democracy.”

Vanessa Harmoush, a spokesperson for the Education Department, said the agency was reviewing the ruling. She added that the department’s guidelines were set through a “rigorous process” of formal rulemaking and designed to uphold Title IX’s guarantee that “no person experience sex discrimination.”

“The department stands by the final Title IX regulations released in April 2024, and we will continue to fight for every student,” she said in a statement.

In the ruling Thursday, Doughty also cast doubt on the department’s application of Bostock v. Clayton County, the landmark 2020 Supreme Court case that held that gay and transgender workers are protected from workplace discrimination under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The department’s view that those same protections should apply to transgender students in federally funded schools was a central pillar of the revised Title IX rules.

“The final rule would render meaningless all of the exemptions set forth in Title IX, such as traditionally one-sex colleges, social fraternities and sororities, voluntary youth organizations, one-sex youth, service organizations, beauty pageants, and the exemption that allows educational facilities to maintain separate living facilities,” Doughty wrote. “Allowing this would allow decades of triumphs for women and men alike to go down the drain.”

After Aug. 1, when the new rules are scheduled to take effect, school administrators would have to incorporate the department’s directives into their enforcement of campus codes and policies.

The injunction temporarily blocks the implementation of the rule in the four states that brought the lawsuit while the case is pending.

The ruling was not the only setback Friday for the Biden administration’s efforts to extend Title IX protections to gay and transgender students. In a separate decision, a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with 20 Republican-led states that had sued the department over guidelines it released in 2021 shortly after the Bostock ruling.

Before issuing its final rule in April, the department put out guidance documents outlining the administration’s policy stance in light of the Supreme Court’s decision, which included permitting students access to restrooms, locker rooms and sports teams corresponding to their gender identity.

The 2-1 ruling Friday does not affect the implementation of the formal rule but could be a sign of challenging legal terrain to come. The appeals panel held that the department’s guidance conflicted with certain state laws, such as those that require transgender people to use bathrooms corresponding to their sex assigned at birth, and that the states had grounds to sue because of the possibility the department could withhold funding or open investigations.

“Taken together, the states are trapped between choosing to enforce state laws or receiving federal funds, all while having to investigate gender-identity and sexual-orientation discrimination,” the judges wrote.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.