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U.S. Federal Courts

DOJ supports gender affirming care in correctional facilities

“The U.S. Constitution requires that people incarcerated in prisons receive necessary medical care to address serious medical conditions”

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Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division (Photo credit: DOJ/YouTube)

ATLANTA — The U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Civil Rights filed a statement of interest on Monday in connection with a lawsuit before the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia concerning the administration of gender-affirming care in correctional settings.

According to a press release from the agency, the statement “explains that gender dysphoria falls within the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)’s definition of ‘disability’ and affirms that correctional institutions cannot deny medically appropriate care for people with gender dysphoria, no matter their particular circumstances, consistent with the Eighth Amendment.”

“We are committed to ensuring constitutional conditions inside our jails and prisons so that those detained inside these facilities, including people with gender dysphoria can live safely and receive needed medical care,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke.

“The U.S. Constitution requires that people incarcerated in jails and prisons receive necessary medical care, treatment and services to address serious medical conditions,” she said.

The case before the federal court addresses claims by an incarcerated transgender woman that she was denied necessary medical care — including surgeries recommended by four clinicians and consistent access to hormone therapy.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal judge wants Q&A doc from lawyers in trans medical case

The report concluded lawyers had engaged in judge-shopping, adding sometimes lawyers consider potential judges in determining where to file

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The Frank M. Johnson Jr. Federal Building and United States Courthouse in Montgomery, Alabama, seen on January 24, 2023. (Brian Lyman/Alabama Reflector)

By Jemma Stephenson | MONTGOMERY, Ala. – A federal judge in Montgomery Friday ordered attorneys representing transgender families to turn over a document used to prep lawyers ahead of a hearing over alleged judge shopping. 

In the 51-page filing, U.S. District Judge Liles C. Burke told the lawyers to provide the information, known as a Q&A document, to the judge for an in-camera review, to decide whether or not the document is covered by attorney-client privilege.

Burke, appointed by former President Donald Trump, has accused the attorneys for the families of trying to a get a judge that would be favorable to their case.

“This is not an ordinary civil case in which a court simply disbelieved testimony about an important fact: here, a three-judge panel was investigating whether lawyers intentionally attempted to subvert the administration of justice by judge-shopping, unanimously found that they did, unanimously disbelieved their explanations that they did not, unanimously expressed concern about their candor, and unanimously found that one lawyer lied outright,” he wrote. “If this is not enough to open the door for an in camera review of the Q&A document, it is difficult to imagine what would suffice.”

According to the Legal Information Institute, “in camera” reviews “are held in private before a judge where the press and the public are not allowed to take part.”

In May, a filing from the attorneys said that the document was an appropriate preparation for questions from a panel investigating the allegations and not under a continuing order from the panel or generated to further crime or fraud. They wrote that it should not trigger the crime-fraud exception and that if an in-camera review must take place, it should be done by a special master.

A message was left with attorney Barry Ragsdale, who according to Burke created the document and represents some of the accused attorneys. A message was also left with the attorney for Kathleen Hartnett, who according to Burke’s filing has her own attorney. The whole Walker team was formerly represented by Ragsdale, according to Burke’s filing.

The plaintiffs sued Alabama in 2022 over a law making it a felony to prescribe hormones and puberty blockers in gender-affirming care. Burke, who heard the case, initially ruled for the plaintiffs and blocked the state law. But a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit overturned his ruling last year. The plaintiffs are seeking a full review of the decision by the circuit.

In 2022, shortly after Gov. Kay Ivey signed the restrictions on gender-affirming medical care, multiple lawsuits were filed against the law. According to an October report from a panel that investigated the charges of judge shopping, the first lawsuit in the U.S. Northern District of Alabama was originally assigned to U.S. District Judge Anna Manasco, who recused herself. The case was reassigned to Magistrate Judge Staci G. Cornelius. There was not unanimous consent for “dispositive jurisdiction” by a magistrate judge, so the court was reassigned to Judge Annemarie Carnie Axon.

The second lawsuit was filed in the U.S. Middle District of Alabama, and the attorneys marked the case as related to Corbitt v. Taylor, a 2018 case. The case was assigned to Chief Judge Emily C. Marks. The attorneys filed a motion that the case be reassigned to Judge Myron H. Thompson, who presided over Corbitt. Thompson has historically ruled for abortion and civil rights cases. They also called Thompson’s chambers.

In the report, the panel accused an attorney of having “deliberately misled” the panel about the call to Thompson’s office. In the Friday filing, Burke wrote that this “provides a stand-alone evidentiary basis for a prima facie showing of fraud on the court.”

“Put differently, the Panel’s finding (and independently, the transcripts they rely on) support a prima facie case of perjury as a ‘crime,’ but they also suffice to show a prima facie case of fraud on the court under the separate heading of ‘fraud,’” he wrote.

According to the October filing, Marks entered an order to show why the case should not be transferred to the Northern District. Lawyers from the two cases had a conference call, and the parties consented to a transfer. Then the attorneys responded to the order and withdrew their motion. Marks transferred the case and it was randomly assigned to Burke, who set a hearing date. The attorneys in the cases were going to consolidate their cases.

Axon was presiding over a criminal trial, so the first case was transferred to Burke. The state attorneys then indicated that they would not file a motion to consolidate.

Within minutes of each other, both of the lawsuits were dismissed by the attorneys. Attorneys told reporters that they were planning to refile.

Burke filed an order that included that the lawyers were giving an appearance of judge shopping. At his direction, the clerk forwarded that order to the chief judge of each district in Alabama.

A new case was filed in the U.S. Middle District and was assigned to Burke by designation.

The panelists’ October report concluded that the lawyers engaged in judge-shopping.

“The Panel is not naïve,” the panel wrote in their October report. “Lawyers sometimes consider potential judicial assignments in determining where to file a case, and there may be reasons why in certain cases some judges may be considered more favorable draws than others. So the panel does not condemn the lawyers for fretting about their chances of success before a particular judge. Of course, the irony here is that counsel ultimately succeeded before Judge Burke. But in this case, counsel did more than fret. They made plans and took steps in an attempt to manipulate the assignment of these cases.”

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Since then, Burke has requested that the document be overturned and met with the accused attorneys after a recent court hearing. The panelists had asked the attorneys if they had been coached on what to say in the proceedings, and most of the lawyers said no. One lawyer, Milo Inglehart, said he had been provided the Q&A document the night before that included talking points in response to some potential questions.

The panel asked for the document to be turned over. The attorney did not do so, allegedly at the direction of Ragsdale.

“Mr. Ragsdale unilaterally decided that Mr. Inglehart could avoid producing the Q&A Document anyway—even though the Panel had just rejected counsel’s arguments that the attorney-client privilege or the work-product doctrine shielded it from disclosure—because the July 25 order exempted ‘privileged communications’ from disclosure in the respondents’ declarations,” wrote Burke in a footnote. “Even though the panel denied the request for a protective order, Mr. Inglehart nonetheless withheld the Q&A document as privileged at his counsel’s advice.”

The judge wrote that the document must be provided by 5 p.m. on Tuesday.

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Jemma Stephenson

Jemma Stephenson covers education as a reporter for the Alabama Reflector. She previously worked at the Montgomery Advertiser and graduated from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

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The preceding article was previously published by the Alabama Reflector and is republished with permission.

The Alabama Reflector is an independent, nonprofit news outlet dedicated to covering state government and politics in the state of Alabama. Through daily coverage and investigative journalism, The Reflector covers decision makers in Montgomery; the issues affecting Alabamians, and potential ways to move our state forward.

We’re part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Club Q shooter gets life in prison for federal hate crimes 

“The 2022 mass shooting at Club Q is one of the most violent crimes against the LGBTQIA+ community in history” – FBI Director Wray

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Assistant U.S. Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. (Screenshot/YouTube U.S. Justice Dept)

DENVER, Colo. – Anderson Lee Aldrich, 24, formerly of Colorado Springs, Colorado, was sentenced to 55 concurrent life sentences to run consecutive to 190 years in prison after pleading guilty to 74 hate crimes and firearms charges related to the Nov. 19, 2022, mass shooting at Club Q, an LGBTQ+ establishment in Colorado Springs.  

According to the plea agreement, Aldrich admitted to murdering five people, injuring 19, and attempting to murder 26 more in a willful, deliberate, malicious, and premediated attack at Club Q. According to the plea, Aldrich entered Club Q armed with a loaded, privately manufactured assault weapon and began firing. Aldrich continued firing until subdued by patrons of the Club. As part of the plea, Aldrich admitted that this attack was in part motivated because of the actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity of any person.

“Fueled by hate, the defendant targeted members of the LGBTQIA+ community at a place that represented belonging, safety, and acceptance – stealing five people from their loved ones, injuring 19 others, and striking fear across the country,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “Today’s sentencing makes clear that the Justice Department is committed to protecting the right of every person in this country to live free from the fear that they will be targeted by hate-fueled violence or discrimination based on who they are or who they love. I am grateful to every agent, prosecutor, and staff member across the Department – from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado, to the Civil Rights Division, the ATF, and FBI – for their work on this case. The Justice Department will never stop working to defend the safety and civil rights of all people in our country.”

“The 2022 mass shooting at Club Q is one of the most violent crimes against the LGBTQIA+ community in history,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “The FBI and our partners have worked tirelessly towards this sentencing, but the true heroes are the patrons of the Club who selflessly acted to subdue the defendant. This Pride Month and every month, the FBI stands with the survivors, victims, and families of homophobic violence and hate.”

“ATF will not rest until perpetrators like this defendant are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” said Director Steven Dettelbach of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). “I hope today’s life sentence brings at least some peace to the victims and survivors of this senseless, horrific tragedy. That this sentence should come during Pride month reinforces how far we have left to go before all communities, including all LGBTQIA+ communities, are safe here. It also shows how far ATF and all our partners will go to ensure hatred does not win.”

“The defendant’s mass shooting and heinous targeting of Club Q is one of the most devastating assaults on the LGBTQIA+ community in our nation’s history. This sentence cannot reclaim the lives lost or undo the harms inflicted. But we hope that it provides the survivors, the victims’ families, and their communities a small measure of justice,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Our message today should be loud and clear. No one should have to fear for their life or their safety because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. The Justice Department will vigorously investigate and prosecute those who perpetrate hate-fueled, bias-driven attacks.”

“Hate has no place in our country and no place in Colorado” said Acting U.S. Attorney Matt Kirsch for the District of Colorado. “I hope that today’s sentence demonstrates to the victims and those connected to this horrific event that we do not tolerate these heinous acts of violence.”

The FBI Denver Field Office, Colorado Springs Police Department, and ATF investigated the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Alison Connaughty and Bryan Fields for the District of Colorado and Trial Attorney Maura White of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division prosecuted the case.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Appeals Court overturns Okla. anti-Trans birth certificate policy

The U.S. District Court dismissed the complaint in June 2023, and Lambda Legal appealed the decision to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals

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Courtroom, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, Byron R. White U.S. Courthouse, Denver, Colorado. (Photo Credit: Carol M. Highsmith Archive/Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

DENVER, Colo. – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit overturned a lower court ruling that had dismissed a lawsuit challenging Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt’s anti-trans birth certificate policy, which categorically prohibits transgender people from correcting the gender marker on their birth certificates to match their gender identity.

All three members of the panel agreed that the lawsuit stated a valid claim of unconstitutional discrimination against transgender people and that the government’s justifications for this discrimination were irrational.

The court explained the Constitution requires that “there must be some rational connection between the Policy and a legitimate interest. There is no rational connection here—the Policy is in search of a purpose.” A majority of the court also held that any government discrimination against transgender people triggers heightened judicial scrutiny.

“This ruling stands as a monumental win for the transgender community in Oklahoma and nationwide, sending a clear message to lawmakers everywhere that unconstitutional discrimination against transgender people will not be tolerated by the courts,” said Lambda Legal Senior Counsel Peter Renn. “This ruling comes at a critical time amidst a surge in anti-transgender policies of all stripes across the country. That includes attempts, like the one here, to roll back the basic ability of transgender people to correct their identity documents to match who they are, which can expose them to harassment, abuse, and physical danger.”

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On November 8, 2021, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt issued an executive order that reversed the Oklahoma State Department of Health’s (OSDH) prior practice of allowing transgender people to correct their birth certificates to match their gender identity, which had existed for at least 14 years from 1997-2021.

Governor Stitt explained, “I believe that people are created by God to be male or female.  Period,” and vowing to take “whatever action necessary to protect Oklahoma values and our way of life.”  Previously, transgender people could correct their birth certificates by presenting a court order to OSDH, but following the executive order, OSDH has refused to comply with such orders.

Lambda Legal joined by Tulsa attorney Karen Keith Wilkens filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma on March 14, 2022 challenging the Oklahoma Republican Governor’s executive order.

The U.S. District Court dismissed the complaint in June 2023, and Lambda Legal appealed the decision to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Doctor charged: Unauthorized access to personal info of trans kids

If convicted, Dr. Haim faces up to 10 years in federal prison and a $250,000 maximum possible fine for his actions

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Ethan Haim/Screenshot YouTube

HOUSTON – A Houston doctor has been indicted for obtaining protected individual health information for patients that were not under his care and without authorization, announced Alamdar S. Hamdani, the United States attorney for the Southern District of Texas.

The case against Ethan Haim, 34, Dallas, has now been unsealed, and he is set to make his initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Yvonne Y. Ho in Houston.

The four-count indictment alleges Haim obtained personal information including patient names, treatment codes and the attending physician from Texas Children’s Hospital’s (TCH) electronic system without authorization. He allegedly obtained this information under false pretenses and with intent to cause malicious harm to TCH.

According to the indictment, Haim was a resident at Baylor College of Medicine and had previous rotations at TCH as part of his residency.

In April 2023, Haim allegedly requested to re-activate his login access at TCH to access pediatric patients not under his care. The indictment alleges he obtained unauthorized access to personal information of pediatric patients under false pretenses and later disclosed it to a media contact.

According to Houston’s CBS News affiliate KHOU-TV 11, shortly after Haim allegedly accessed the records, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced he was launching an investigation into Texas Children’s Hospital to find out whether they are “actively engaging in illegal behavior and performing gender transitioning procedures on children.

Calling himself a ‘whistleblower’ last year as the FBI conducted the investigation, he tweeted a request for funding to support his legal defense:

If convicted, Haim faces up to 10 years in federal prison and a $250,000 maximum possible fine.

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U.S. Federal Courts

LGBTQ Title IX protections blocked in six more states

Chief Judge Danny Reeves of the U.S. District Court blocks Biden Title IX rules, says ‘sex,’ ‘gender identity’ not the same thing

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Los Angeles Blade graphic

By McKenna Horsley | LEXINGTON, Ky. – A federal judge has blocked new Title IX rules, including those aimed at protecting LGBTQ+ students from discrimination in K-12 schools, and sided with Republican attorneys general in several states — including Kentucky. 

Chief Judge Danny Reeves of the U.S. District Court in Eastern Kentucky on Monday issued a ruling siding with Republican Attorney General Russell Coleman and his counterparts in five other states. The ruling prevents the U.S. Department of Education from “implementing, enacting, enforcing, or taking any action to enforce the Final Rule, Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Sex in Education Programs or Activities Receiving Federal Financial Assistance,” which was set to begin Aug. 1. 

Kentucky Attorney General Russell Coleman (Kentucky Lantern photo by Mathew Mueller)

Coleman and the GOP attorneys general filed the lawsuit in April. At the time, they argued the Department of Education “used rulemaking power to convert a law designed to equalize opportunities for both sexes into a far broader regime of its own making” with the new Title IX regulations. 

Reeves limited the injunction to the plaintiff-states of Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Virginia and West Virginia.

The Biden administration introduced the rules to “build on the legacy of Title IX by clarifying that all our nation’s students can access schools that are safe, welcoming, and respect their rights,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a statement. The rules also would have rolled back Trump administration changes that narrowly defined sexual harassment and directed schools to conduct live hearings, allowing those who were accused of sexual harassment or assault to cross-examine their accusers.

President Joe Biden with U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. (Official White House photo by Adam Schultz)

In their complaint, the state attorneys general said that under the Biden rule, “Men who identify as women will, among other things, have the right to compete within programs and activities that Congress made available to women so they can fairly and fully pursue academic and athletic excellence — turning Title IX’s protections on their head. … And anyone who expresses disagreement with this new status quo risks Title IX discipline for prohibited harassment.” 

Established in 1972, Title IX was created to prevent “discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance,” according to the Department of Education.

Reeves wrote in his opinion that “the Department of Education seeks to derail deeply rooted law” created by the implementation of Title IX. 

“At bottom, the Department would turn Title IX on its head by redefining ‘sex’ to include ‘gender identity.’ But ‘sex’ and ‘gender identity’ do not mean the same thing,” he wrote. “The Department’s interpretation conflicts with the plain language of Title IX and therefore exceeds its authority to promulgate regulations under that statute.” 

In a press release, Coleman’s office said Monday that schools that would fail to comply with the new rules would risk losing federal funding. Citing the Department of Education, the office said Kentucky’s public and private schools received a total of $1.1 billion in federal funding last year.

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“As a parent and as Attorney General, I joined this effort to protect our women and girls from harm. Today’s ruling recognized the 50-plus years of educational opportunities Title IX has created for students and athletes,” Coleman said in the press release. “We’re grateful for the court’s ruling, and we will continue to fight the Biden Administration’s attempts to rip away protections to advance its political agenda.”

A spokesperson for the department said it was reviewing the ruling.

“Title IX guarantees that no person experience sex discrimination in a federally-funded educational environment,” the spokesperson added. “The Department crafted the final Title IX regulations following a rigorous process to realize the Title IX statutory guarantee. The Department stands by the final Title IX regulations released in April 2024, and we will continue to fight for every student.”

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McKenna Horsley

McKenna Horsley covers state politics for the Kentucky Lantern. She previously worked for newspapers in Huntington, West Virginia, and Frankfort, Kentucky. She is from northeastern Kentucky.

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The preceding story was previously published by the Kentucky Lantern and is republished with permission.

The Kentucky Lantern is an independent, nonpartisan, free news service based in Frankfort a short walk from the Capitol, but all of Kentucky is our beat.

We focus on how decisions made in the marble halls of power ripple through the lives of Kentuckians. We bring attention to injustices and hold institutions and officials accountable. We tell the stories of Kentuckians who are making a difference and shine a light on what’s working. Our journalism is aimed at building a fairer, healthier Kentucky for all. 

Kentucky Lantern is part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Title IX transgender protections blocked in federal court

Attorney generals in 26 states have originated or joined federal lawsuits to stop the new Title IX regulations from taking effect

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A march for Transgender Day of Visibility passes in front of Jackson Square in New Orleans on Friday, March 31, 2023. (Greg LaRose/Louisiana Illuminator)

By Greg Larose | MONROE, La. – A federal judge has temporarily halted enforcement of new rules from the Biden administration that would prevent discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty of Louisiana issued a temporary injunction Thursday that blocks updated Title IX policy from taking effect Aug. 1 in Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi and Montana. 

In April, the U.S. Department of Education announced it would expand Title IX to protect LGBTQ+ students, and the four aforementioned states challenged the policy in federal court.

Doughty said in his order that Title IX, the 52-year-old civil rights law that prohibits sex-based discrimination, only applies to biological women. The judge also called out the Biden administration for overstepping its authority. 

“This case demonstrates the abuse of power by executive federal agencies in the rulemaking

Process,” Doughty wrote. “The separation of powers and system of checks and balances exist in this country for a reason.”

The order from Doughty, a federal court appointee of President Donald Trump, keeps the updated Title IX regulations from taking effect until the court case is resolved or a higher court throws out the order.

Opponents of the Title IX rule changes have said conflating gender identity with sex would undermine protections in federal law and ultimately harm biological women. Gender identity refers to the gender an individual identifies as, which might differ from the sex they were assigned at birth.

Louisiana Attorney General Liz Murrill, who filed the suit in the state’s Western District federal court, had called the new regulations “dangerous and unlawful.” In a statement Thursday evening, she said the rules would have placed an unfair burden on every school, college and university in the country.

“This (is) a victory for women and girls,” Murrill said in the statement. “When Joe Biden forced his illegal and radical gender ideology on America, Louisiana said NO! Along with Idaho, Mississippi, and Montana, states are fighting back in defense of the law, the safety and prosperity of women and girls, and basic American values.”

Title IX is considered a landmark policy that provided for equal access for women in educational settings and has been applied to academic and athletic pursuits. 

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Doughty’s order comes a day after a similar development in Texas, where Judge Reed O’Connor, an appointee of President George W. Bush, declared that the Biden administration exceeded its authority, The Texas Tribune reported. 

Texas filed its own lawsuit against the federal government to block enforcement of the new rules, which Gov. Greg Abbott had instructed schools to ignore. Texas is one of several states to approve laws that prohibit transgender student-athletes from participating on sports teams that align with their gender identity.

Attorney generals in 26 states have originated or joined federal lawsuits to stop the new Title IX regulations from taking effect. 

Earlier Thursday, Republicans in Congress moved ahead with their effort to undo the revised Biden Title IX policy. Nearly 70 GOP lawmakers have signed onto legislation to reverse the education department’s final rule through the Congressional Review Act, which Congress can use to overturn certain federal agency actions.

Biden is expected to veto the legislation if it advances to his desk.

“Title IX has paved the way for our girls to access new opportunities in education, scholarships and athletics. Unfortunately, (President) Joe Biden is destroying all that progress,” U.S. Rep. Mary Miller, R-Illinois, author of the legislation, said Thursday.

States Newsroom Reporter Shauneen Miranda in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.

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Greg LaRose

Greg LaRose has covered news for more than 30 years in Louisiana. Before coming to the Louisiana Illuminator, he was the chief investigative reporter for WDSU-TV in New Orleans. He previously led the government and politics team for The Times-Picayune | NOLA.com, and was editor in chief at New Orleans CityBusiness. Greg’s other career stops include Tiger Rag, South Baton Rouge Journal, the Covington News Banner, Louisiana Radio Network and multiple radio stations.

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The preceding article was previously published by the Louisiana Illuminator and is republished with permission.

The Louisiana Illuminator is an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization with a mission to cast light on how decisions in Baton Rouge are made and how they affect the lives of everyday Louisianians. Our in-depth investigations and news stories, news briefs and commentary help residents make sense of how state policies help or hurt them and their neighbors statewide.

We’re part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Supreme Court rules to preserve access to abortion medication

The suit, Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. FDA, was originally filed in the U.S. District Court for the North District of Texas

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The abortifacent drug mifepristone is marketed under the brand name Mifeprex (Photo courtesy of Danco Laboratories)

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday in a much-anticipated decision against efforts by conservative doctors and medical groups challenging access to mifepristone, one of two pharmaceuticals used in medication abortions. As a result of the high court’s decision, access to the drug won’t change.

Associate Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, writing for the court, reversed a lower court decision that would have made it more difficult to obtain the drug, which is used in about two-thirds of U.S. abortions. The ruling however was narrow in scope as it only addressed what is known as legal standing in a case.

SCOTUSblog senior court reporter Amy Howe noted that Kavanaugh acknowledged what he characterized as the challengers’ “sincere legal, moral, ideological, and policy objections” to elective abortion “by others” and to FDA’s 2016 and 2021 changes to the conditions on the use of the drug.

But the challengers had not shown that they would be harmed by the FDA’s mifepristone policies, he explained, and under the Constitution, merely objecting to abortion and the FDA’s policies are not enough to bring a case in federal court. The proper place to voice those objections, he suggested, is in the political or regulatory arena.

“Under Article III of the Constitution, a plaintiff’s desire to make a drug less available for others does not establish standing to sue,” Kavanaugh wrote.

“We are pleased with the Supreme Court’s decision in this incredibly important case. By rejecting the Fifth Circuit’s radical, unprecedented and unsupportable interpretation of who has standing to sue, the justices reaffirmed longstanding basic principles of administrative law,” said Abigail Long, a spokesperson for Danco. “The decision also safeguards access to a drug that has decades of safe and effective use.”

The White House released a statement from President Joe Biden on Supreme Court Decision on FDA v. Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine:

“Today’s decision does not change the fact that the fight for reproductive freedom continues. It does not change the fact that the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade two years ago, and women lost a fundamental freedom. It does not change the fact that the right for a woman to get the treatment she needs is imperiled if not impossible in many states.
 
It does mean that mifepristone, or medication abortion, remains available and approved. Women can continue to access this medication – approved by the FDA as safe and effective more than 20 years ago. 
 
But let’s be clear: attacks on medication abortion are part of Republican elected officials’ extreme and dangerous agenda to ban abortion nationwide. Since the overturning of Roe v. Wade, Republican elected officials have imposed extreme abortion bans in 21 states, some of which include zero exceptions for rape or incest. Women are being turned away from emergency rooms, or forced to go to court to plead for care that their doctor recommended or to travel hundreds of miles for care. Doctors and nurses are being threatened with jail time, including life in prison, for providing the health care they have been trained to provide. And contraception and IVF are under attack.
 
The stakes could not be higher for women across America. Vice President Harris and I stand with the vast majority of Americans who support a woman’s right to make deeply personal health care decisions. We will continue to fight to ensure that women in every state get the health care they need and we will continue to call on Congress to restore the protections of Roe v. Wade in federal law — that is our commitment.”

U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk in Amarillo, Texas, in a ruling a year ago, waved aside decades of scientific approval, ruled that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration improperly approved mifepristone more than 20 years ago in 2000.

Kacsmaryk, appointed to the federal bench by former President Donald Trump, in his 67 page opinion wrote that the FDA’s two-decade-old approval violated a federal rule that allows for accelerated approval for certain drugs and, along with subsequent actions by the agency, was unlawful.

The suit, Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. FDA, was originally filed in the U.S. District Court for the North District of Texas in mid-November by Alliance Defending Freedom, an anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ+ legal organization.

Applauding Kacsmaryk’s ruling, Erik Baptist, speaking for the Alliance Defending Freedom said in a statement: “By illegally approving dangerous chemical abortion drugs, the FDA put women and girls in harm’s way, and it’s high time the agency is held accountable for its reckless actions.”

Erin Hawley, a senior attorney for the conservative group Alliance Defending Freedom who argued the case at the Supreme Court, said the opinion was “disappointing,” but told reporters in a press gaggle after the ruling that the explicit mention of conscience protections was a victory.

“The Supreme Court was crystal clear that pro life doctors do have federal conscience protections, even in emergency situations,” Hawley said. “So that’s a huge win for the pro-life cause. The Supreme Court clearly said that our doctors are entitled to those federal conscious protections that are based on their religious beliefs.”

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The case now returns to the lower courts, and the dispute over access to the drug likely is not over. 

SCOTUSblog also reported that Nancy Northrup, the president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, praised the decision but conceded that the dispute could continue even after Thursday’s ruling. She, too, noted that the three states “could still attempt to keep the case going, including taking it back up to the Supreme Court,” and she warned that access to mifepristone “is still at risk nationwide.”

The Hill notes that for instance, the same district court in Texas that originally ruled against the FDA said a group of three red states—Missouri, Idaho and Kansas— can intervene in the lawsuit.

“I would expect the litigation to continue with those states raising different standing arguments than made by our doctors,” ADF’s Hawley told reporters.

Equality California, the nation’s largest statewide LGBTQ+ civil rights organization, emailed the Blade the following statement from Executive Director Tony Hoang in response to a unanimous ruling by the United States Supreme Court:

“We appreciate today’s unanimous decision to uphold access to the abortion drug mifepristone, authored by a conservative Justice. This ruling reinforces the critical importance of maintaining accessible reproductive healthcare and highlights the necessity of safeguarding these rights from baseless legal attacks.

However, it is imperative to recognize that the Court should never have accepted this case. The so-called Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine lacked the standing to initiate this challenge. Moreover, federal conscience exemptions already exist for healthcare providers who object to offering abortion-related care. 

Medication abortions involving mifepristone constitute the majority of abortions in America, including those sought by LGBTQ+ people. Our community understands the necessity of bodily autonomy and the right to make decisions regarding our own medical care, including reproductive care. Patients deserve access to the medications they need, and providers should be able to deliver that care without unwarranted interference from extremist courts or politicians.   

Attacks on abortion do not end with this decision; millions of people nationwide are still unable to get abortion care and abortion opponents remain focused on their end goal of a nationwide abortion ban. 

Equality California will continue to work with our legislative partners in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., as well as organizational allies, like Planned Parenthood, to help protect and expand access to abortion and reproductive healthcare.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

ACLU of Indiana sues City of Loogootee for blocking Pride

The First Amendment lawsuit calls for the court to enjoin Loogootee’s Special Events Ordinance and allowing plaintiffs to hold PrideFest 2024

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Photo Credit: Loogootee Pride 2024

EVANSVILLE, Ind. — The ACLU of Indiana filed suit in U.S. District Court on Thursday against the City of Loogootee, a community of about 2,600 in the southwestern part of the state, on behalf of the sponsors of PrideFest 2024.

After initially approving a permit for PrideFest 2024 to take place on September 7, the Loogootee City Council has since passed two new ordinances changing the application process for using city property, rescinded its prior approval of PrideFest 2024, and failed to vote on the new application the sponsors properly submitted in February 2024.

The first Loogootee Pride Festival was successfully held in June 2023 at the Public Square, in the center of town. where numerous community events have been held over the years. About 200 people attended the 2023 festival, and organizers had no reason to suspect that the town’s leadership would not approve a permit for a festival in 2024.

Since submitting a new application for PrideFest 2024 in February, the organizers of PrideFest, Patoka Valley AIDS Community Action Group, have attended each subsequent Loogootee City Council meeting.

The PrideFest application has been on the Council’s meeting agenda but Council members never discussed or voted on it. On June 10th, the Council passed the most recently revised ordinance setting up numerous roadblocks to PrideFest.

Another event, Summer Fest, is scheduled to be held in the Public Square next week, apparently without the organizers of that event even applying for a permit.

The First Amendment lawsuit filed today calls for the court to enjoin Loogootee’s Special Events Ordinance and allowing plaintiffs to hold PrideFest 2024 at the Public Square on September 7, 2024.
 
ACLU of Indiana’s Legal Director Ken Falk said:
 
“The City of Loogootee’s revocation of its November 2023 permission to hold PrideFest 2024 and its actions since that time violate the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. The latest city special events ordinance is unconstitutional in many ways. It, and the actions of the City Council, clearly indicate that Councilmembers are trying to deny our plaintiffs the ability to hold their event because they disagree with a celebration of the LGBTQ community..

The complaint can be found here.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal judge blocks expanding Title IX rules for LGBTQ+ students

Federal Judge Reed O’Connor said Biden admin didn’t have the authority to make changes, which would expand anti-discrimination protections

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A protester waves a transgender pride flag during a protest at the University of North Texas in Denton on March 23, 2022. (Photo Credit: Emil Lippe/The Texas Tribune)

By Juan Salinas II | DALLAS, Texas – A Texas federal judge blocked the Biden administration’s efforts to extend federal anti-discrimination protections to LGBTQ+ students.

In his ruling Tuesday, Judge Reed O’Connor said the Biden administration lacked the authority to make the changes and accused it of pushing “an agenda wholly divorced from the text, structure, and contemporary context of Title IX.” Title IX is the 1972 law that prohibits discrimination based on sex in educational settings.

“To allow [the Biden administration’s] unlawful action to stand would be to functionally rewrite Title IX in a way that shockingly transforms American education and usurps a major question from Congress,” wrote O’Connor, a President George W. Bush appointee. “That is not how our democratic system functions.”

The Biden administration’s new guidelines, issued in April, expanded Title IX to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The changes would make schools and universities responsible for investigating a wider range of discrimination complaints. The rule changes came as several states, including Texas, have approved laws in recent years barring transgender student-athletes from participating in sports teams that correspond to their gender identity. The Biden administration hasn’t clarified whether the new guidance would apply in those cases.

Texas and several other states have sued the Biden administration over the new rule. Carroll ISD also filed a separate suit over the change. A month after the guidelines were released, Gov. Greg Abbott called on school districts and universities to ignore them.

“Threatening to withhold education funding by forcing states to accept ‘transgender’ policies that put women in danger was plainly illegal,” said Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in a statement applauding Tuesday’s ruling. “Texas has prevailed on behalf of the entire Nation.”

An U.S. Education Department said in a statement it stands by its revised guidelines.

“Every student deserves the right to feel safe in school,” the statement reads.

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Juan Salinas II’s staff photo

Juan Salinas II is a reporting fellow based in Arlington. He is a senior at the University of Texas at Arlington majoring in journalism and a transfer student from Tarrant County College, where he worked at the student newspaper, The Collegian. As an intern at public radio station KERA, he covered state politics and local governments, and he was a year-long reporting fellow at the Fort Worth Report. Juan was born and raised in the North Side neighborhood of Fort Worth.

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The preceding article was previously published by The Texas Tribune and is republished with permission.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Court hears arguments on injunction blocking Iowa school book law

The law was blocked before enforcement began, but, a significant number of books were removed from Iowa K-12 public schools due to the law

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Gender Queer, a graphic memoir by Maia Kobabe, was the most challenged book in America in 2022, according to the American Library Association. (Photo by New Jersey Monitor)


By Robin Opsahl | ST. PAUL, Minn. – Attorneys for the state of Iowa and civil liberties groups clashed in court Tuesday over an injunction blocking enforcement of a law that restricts school libraries from carrying books with material related to sex acts, sexuality and gender.

The injunction was imposed by U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Locher in December 2023, days before enforcement of the law was expected to begin. It was issued after Penguin Random House Books and the Iowa State Education Association sought an injunction in one of the two lawsuits now challenging the measure, with the other lawsuit filed by American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa and Lambda Legal.

The lawsuit filed by Penguin Random House in conjunction with the ISEA, educators and authors argues that Iowa students’ constitutional rights of free speech and equal protection are restricted by the law, as the measure unreasonably limits their ability to freely access and share ideas.

Books removed from schools due to the law include classics like “Brave New World” and “Ulysses,” but also include several books focused on LGBTQ+ and race issues, including “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” and “Gender Queer.”

Books related to sexual assault and rape have also been removed from several Iowa school library shelves. Laurie Halse Anderson, author of “Speak” and “Shout” and one of the plaintiffs in the case, told reporters in November that restrictions on books like hers on sexual assault and violence could isolate and harm students looking for support in the aftermath of traumatic incidents.

During Tuesday’s hearing before a three-judge panel of U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, Eric Wessan of the Iowa Attorney General’s Office told the judges the law is not violating constitutional free speech protections, as these books can still be found and obtained at a bookstore. The law’s restriction of materials in public-school libraries is a regulation of government speech, not private speech, he argued.

“The government’s interest in ensuring an education suitable to students’ age and in preventing minor students’ exposure to inappropriate material is a legitimate, compelling, even substantial one,” Wessan wrote in his brief on the case. “And removing from school library shelves books that describe or depict ‘sex acts’ is reasonably related to that legitimate interest.”

Christy Hickman, ISEA chief legal counsel, said in a news conference that U.S. Supreme Court precedent has not favored arguments that books can still be found by students outside of school libraries as a reason for allowing the removal of books from the schools’ shelves.

“Public school libraries are intended to provide access to books to all children, regardless of whether or not they can buy it at the bookstore,” Hickman said. “So such an argument, while it might make sense in other contexts, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in the context of our K-12 public schools, because some of our kids can’t afford to go across the street … to the bookstore and buy it. That’s the purpose of our public school libraries.”

The ACLU and Lambda Legal lawsuit, filed on behalf of Iowa Safe Schools and seven students and families in the state, similarly argues that the Iowa law violates the U.S. Constitution. Wessan argued that the student plaintiffs did not have standing in the lawsuit, because the law is enforced against school districts and school employees, not students.

While the law was blocked before enforcement began, there have been a significant number of books removed from Iowa K-12 public schools due to the law and potential violations. The Des Moines Register found school districts across the state have removed nearly 3,400 books from their libraries. While the state has repeatedly argued that not all of the books were removed correctly or would count as violations of the law, education advocates have said that ambiguity about the law’s scope have caused school districts and teachers to err on the side of caution.

In August 2023, the Iowa Department of Education chose not to release any guidance on schools should proceed in light of the law, despite requests from educators for more information to ensure compliance.

Bird calls book ban a ‘common sense’ law

During Tuesday’s court arguments, a judge said that school districts could be sued on an individual basis for removing books that do not fall under the law’s restrictions as a means to address inappropriate removals. But Hickman, the ISEA attorney, said the lawsuit against the state is the appropriate action, as individual school districts are trying their best with current resources to follow the law as intended.

“If we had to start all over and start suing individual school districts — think about the court and school and public resources that go in into that,” Hickman said. “I hope that that is not where we end up. What the education community needs, what our members need, is some guidance in how to implement this law.”

Another judge expressed concerns about questioning the law’s constitutionality before it has been implemented, an argument presented by Wessan. The law was created to help address the way Iowa students learn, he said, and the injunction against portions of the law has “stymied that” objective.

“The state believes that if this injunction is vacated, the school districts, the schools and the students will understand what the law means,” he said. “And as time moves forward, this will become an integral part of Iowa’s educational landscape.”

Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird said in a statement that her office is defending a “common sense” law that she said “protects kids, families, and parental rights.”

“Inappropriate books do not belong in the hands of school children,” Bird said. “As a mom, I know how important it is for parents to have a say in what books and materials their kids have access to.”

Attorney Thomas Story with the ACLU said that the law has already had a negative impact on Iowa schools and students.

“It restricts expression in terms that are so vague and overbroad that no two schools seem to agree on what they mean,” Story said in a news conference. “But the fact is that over 3,000 books were removed, student (gay-straight alliances) were closed, and LGBTQ+ students across the state were forced into silence. That is unconstitutional and we will continue to defend the rights of Iowa students as this case moves forward.”

The Eighth Circuit appeals panel did not provide a timeline as to when it might issue a ruling.

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Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. They have experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald.

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The preceding article was previously published by The Iowa Capital Dispatch and is republished with permission.

Iowans value integrity in their government. Free and independent journalism is what keeps our public servants accountable and responsive to the people. That’s why Iowa Capital Dispatch, a nonprofit, independent source for quality journalism, is working every day to keep you informed about what government officials are doing with your money, your freedom and your safety.

We’re part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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