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Broader injunction issued to halt DFPS investigations of trans kids’ families

Good.

Texas’ child welfare agency is once again blocked from investigating parents who provide gender-affirming care to their transgender children. The injunction applies to any family that belongs to PFLAG, an LGBTQ advocacy group with more than 600 members in Texas.

The injunction also specifically protects a handful of families named in the suit, including the Briggles, outspoken advocates for transgender youth who were among the first to be investigated under this directive.

This is the latest chapter in a monthslong legal battle over whether providing medically indicated gender-affirming health care, under the guidance of a doctor, could result in a finding of child abuse by the state.

In February, following a nonbinding legal opinion from Attorney General Ken Paxton, Gov. Greg Abbott directed the Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate parents who provide gender-affirming care to their transgender children.

The Texas Supreme Court has ruled that Abbott had no grounds to direct DFPS to investigate these families but overturned a statewide injunction on procedural grounds.

The American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal brought another lawsuit after that first injunction was overturned, seeking protections on behalf of all members of PFLAG. Travis County District Judge Amy Clark Meachum granted that injunction Friday, three months after hearing arguments.

See here for the previous update and here for a copy of the ruling. This injunction will benefit a lot more families as noted by the story, but we know that it will be appealed and ultimately the Supreme Court will have the final word, so celebrate responsibly. Assuming it hasn’t been mooted by that point, there will be a trial on the merits in Judge Meachum’s court next June. The ACLU, Lambda Legal, Amber Briggle, and the Chron have more.

Another injunction issued to halt DFPS investigations of trans kids’ families

New case, different families.

A Travis County judge on Friday granted a narrow injunction against the state of Texas that will continue to block investigations of child abuse for two families who allowed their children to receive gender-affirming care.

The suit was brought by three Texas families and national LGBT advocacy group PFLAG in response to the Department of Family and Protective Services resuming the investigations this spring, after the Texas Supreme Court ruled it could in a similar but separate case.

“The DFPS Rule was given the effect of a new law or new agency rule, despite no new legislation, regulation, or even valid agency policy,” said Judge Amy Clark Meachum, a Democrat, in granting the injunction, which will last until the case’s resolution.

Like another Travis County judge who granted a temporary restraining order that blocked the investigations into the plaintiff families, Meachum wrote in her ruling Friday that restarting the inquiries would cause “immediate and irreparable injury” to them.

Unlike the previous injunction, however, Meachum’s order does not apply to all members of the chapter-based group PFLAG.

Meachum said Friday that she will “consider legal and factual consideration” and “rule as soon as possible” on whether to do so. Adam and Amber Briggle, the third plaintiff family, was also not included in Friday’s injunction, as their CPS case was closed after the lawsuit was filed.

[…]

There have been 11 investigations of parents of Texas transgender youth, testified Marta Talbert, a director of the state’s Child Protective Investigations unit who was called as a witness by state lawyers. Talbert said five have been closed and two are close to being closed.

The other four cases are stayed by the court through litigation. Talbert said this was either because the state found the youth were not on any kind of puberty blockers or hormones or, more often, because their doctor was able to provide information about their care to investigators.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs disputed that the investigations were being held up for purely administrative reasons and said there seemed to be “further activity” by the child welfare agency on them, contradicting Talbert’s testimony.

See here for a copy of the judge’s order. As the story notes, the state has already filed an appeal, so this will end up before the Supreme Court again in fairly short order. I’m going to go through a bunch of previous posts to review the history so far, but first let’s look at the Statesman story for some further details.

Meachum’s temporary injunction blocked the child-welfare agency from taking any action against the families other than to close its investigations — if that can be done without further contact with the parents or children.

The controversy began in February when Paxton issued a nonbinding legal opinion that said gender-affirming care was prohibited by state child-abuse laws. National medical experts said Paxton relied on false claims, exaggerations and errors to reach that conclusion, but Abbott followed with a Feb. 22 letter directing the Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate such care as abuse, and the state’s child-welfare agency agreed to do so.

Legal challenges followed.

The first lawsuit was filed by a mother, identified only as Jane Doe, who worked for the Department of Family and Protective Services and came under investigation after asking a supervisor what Abbott’s directive meant for her transgender teen. Meachum responded in March by issuing a statewide injunction barring all abuse investigations based solely on providing gender-affirming care.

Paxton’s bid to overturn the injunction is still before the Austin-based 3rd Court of Appeals, but in the meantime, the Texas Supreme Court substantially limited the scope of the judge’s order, striking down the statewide injunction in May while allowing it to apply only to the Doe family.

When Child Protective Services resumed child abuse investigations, three more families filed suit, this time joined by PFLAG, a leading LGBTQ advocacy organization. Last month, a different Travis County judge responded by issuing a temporary restraining order blocking investigations into the three families and any member of PFLAG.

On Wednesday, during a daylong hearing in Austin on whether to convert the restraining order into a longer-lasting injunction, lawyers for Paxton argued that state law gives the child welfare agency the authority to protect minors from abuse, including the potentially improper use of puberty blockers and hormone therapy.

To recap, the first lawsuit to block investigations resulting from Greg Abbott’s executive order, which in turn followed Ken Paxton’s nonbinding opinion, came on March 1, with a DFPS employee and her family, including her 16-year-old daughter, as plaintiffs; Amy Clark Meachum was the judge in this case as well. They won a restraining order, which was then appealed and upheld by the appellate court. On March 11, Judge Meachum issued a statewide injunction to stop the state from investigating anyone for child abuse based solely on the allegation that they provided gender-affirming medical treatment, and anyone from being prosecuted for child abuse for providing gender-affirming care and lifts the mandatory reporting requirements laid out in the directive. This was upheld by the appellate court after some shenanigans by Ken Paxton. On May 13, the Supreme Court upheld the original injunction for the first family that sued but overturned the statewide injunction, which allowed DFPS to pursue other investigations if it had grounds to do so. At that time, DFPS employees said that “agency leadership has acknowledged that these investigations do not meet the current requirements for child abuse and have said policy would need to be generated to match the governor’s directives”, which I believe is what Judge Meachum is citing in this ruling. DFPS did resume some investigations, which led to another lawsuit filed on behalf of three families, who were granted a restraining order by a different Travis County judge, Jan Soifer. One of the three plaintiff families in that case is the Briggles, whose investigation has since been closed by DFPS, which I believe means they are no longer party to that suit, though I could be wrong about that. And that, I believe, catches us up. Whew!

From here the usual pattern will be followed. The restraining order is being appealed, and if history is any guide it will be upheld by the Third Court and go from there to SCOTx. In the meantime, there will be a hearing for a permanent injunction, which according to Judge Meachum’s order will be on December 5. SCOTx may or may not get around to weighing in on the restraining order before then. Most likely some other suits similar to these current two will be filed, and perhaps DFPS will publish an update to their requirements to make their investigations less susceptible to these lawsuits. I have no idea how long that process may take or what the new requirements might look like. I don’t think there’s any relevant federal activity that could have an effect, but that may change, and I might be wrong about that. Needless to say, the 2022 election will have an effect as well.

One more thing, from the Chron story:

The state called as a witness James Cantor, a clinical psychologist based in Ontario, Canada, who said his reviews of studies have found that the majority of children with gender dysphoria no longer end up having symptoms of the condition after hitting puberty and instead “tend to realize they are gay or lesbian.”

Most of the studies he cited in a blog post making the same argument were published before 1988. Gender identity disorder did not make an appearance in the nation’s manual of mental disorders until 1980.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys objected to Cantor’s testimony, saying the studies referenced were not of transgender youths but rather “tomboys” or “effeminate” youth. They also pointed to a North Carolina district court opinion that found that Cantor lacked personal experience or expertise treating minors with gender dysphoria and therefore gave his testimony “very little weight.”

“It’s a complete misrepresentation of the science, one that frankly is the basis and foundation for all of Paxton’s opinions, Gov. Abbott’s directive and the department’s actions,” said Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, senior attorney with Lamda Legal. “It’s a fundamental misunderstanding about trans kids because they don’t believe trans kids should exist.”

This is your reminder that the state’s entire case is built on bullshit and lies, and should be laughed out of the courtroom. The Los Angeles Blade has more.

Restraining order given in latest lawsuit to stop DFPS investigations

Good.

An Austin judge has temporarily stopped the state from investigating many parents who provide gender-affirming care to their transgender children. The state has ruled out allegations of child abuse against one family under investigation, but at least eight more cases remain open.

Travis County District Judge Jan Soifer issued a temporary restraining order Friday in a lawsuit filed on behalf of three families and members of PFLAG, an LGBTQ advocacy group that claims more than 600 members in Texas.

Brian K. Bond, executive director of PFLAG National, applauded the decision to stop what he called “invasive, unnecessary and unnerving investigations.”

“However, let’s be clear: These investigations into loving and affirming families shouldn’t be happening in the first place,” Bond said in a statement.

[…]

This new lawsuit, filed Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal, seeks to block investigations into all parents of transgender children who belong to PFLAG.

During Friday’s hearing, Lambda Legal’s Paul Castillo revealed that the state has ruled out allegations of child abuse against Amber and Adam Briggle, who were under investigation for providing gender-affirming care to their 14-year-old son.

The Briggle family, outspoken advocates for transgender rights, once invited Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton over for dinner. Five years later, they ended up at the center of a child abuse investigation that stemmed, in part, from a nonbinding legal opinion that Paxton issued in February.

While their case has been closed, many others remain ongoing. Castillo said one of the families involved in the lawsuit was visited by DFPS investigators Friday morning.

“I do want to highlight for the court that every plaintiff in this case has illustrated the stress and trauma of even the potential of having a child removed, merely based on the suspicion that the family has pursued the medically necessary course of care that is prescribed by their doctor for gender dysphoria,” Castillo said.

See here for the background, and here for an account from Lambda Legal. The investigation into the Briggle family had apparently been dropped before the hearing, but as noted the others were still active. The judge has directed the lawyers to schedule a hearing in the coming days, at which time we’ll see if the order gets extended. While DFPS had restarted investigations following the Supreme Court’s lifting of the statewide injunction, the investigation of the family from that original case is still paused, so most likely these families will get the same relief. It’s just a shame that they have to go to such lengths to get it.

I would encourage you to read this Twitter thread by DMN reporter Lauren McGaughy, who live-tweeted the hearing. It’s obvious from the way the state argued the case and responded to the judge’s questions that they know they’re on extremely shaky ground – they’re minimizing the Abbott/Paxton order at every turn, and just not engaging the questions as much as they can. That’s not a guarantee of success for these or other plaintiffs going forward, and the next Legislature could enshrine these orders as law if the Republicans remain in control, but it’s important to see the lack of faith in their own case. The Chron has more.

New lawsuit filed to stop DFPS “investigation” of trans kids and their families

From the inbox:

The American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal, and the ACLU of Texas, along with Texas-based law firm Baker Botts LLP, today filed a new lawsuit in Texas state court on behalf of PFLAG National and three Texas families. The suit requests that the court block state investigations of PFLAG families in Texas who are supporting their transgender children with medically necessary health care.

The lawsuit names Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who issued a February directive stating that health care that is medically necessary for treating gender dysphoria should be considered a form of child abuse. The suit also names Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) Commissioner Jaime Masters and DFPS as defendants.

“For nearly 50 years, PFLAG parents have united against government efforts to harm their LGBTQ+ kids. By going after trans kids and their families, Gov. Abbott has picked a fight with thousands of families in Texas and across the country who are united as members of PFLAG National,” said Brian K. Bond, Executive Director of PFLAG National. “Loving and affirming your child and empowering them to be themselves is the highest calling of any parent, no matter your child’s gender. If it takes a court ruling to ensure that the law protects families who lead with love in support of transgender Texans, so be it.”

PFLAG provides confidential peer support, education, and advocacy to LGBTQIA+ people, their parents and families, and allies. With a nationwide network of hundreds of chapters—including 17 in Texas—PFLAG National works with families, schools, and communities to build safety and support for transgender youth.

In an earlier lawsuit brought by the ACLU, Lambda Legal, ACLU of Texas, and Baker Botts, the Texas Supreme Court upheld part of an appeals court order preventing DFPS from investigating parents who work with medical professionals to provide their adolescent transgender children with medically necessary health care. That case, Doe v. Abbott, is still pending.

While the Texas Supreme Court emphasized that neither Attorney General Ken Paxton nor Governor Abbott have the power or authority to direct DFPS to investigate the provision of essential and often lifesaving medical care for transgender youth as child abuse, the court limited the order blocking all investigations to the specific plaintiffs who filed suit.

“It is indefensible for any state leader to repeatedly attack trans Texans and weaponize the child welfare system against the loving families of transgender kids and teens.” said Adri Pérez, policy and advocacy strategist at the ACLU of Texas. “We will continue to fight against these baseless attacks on our community. Transgender kids deserve to have life-saving gender-affirming care in Texas, so that they might live safely to grow up to be transgender adults. During this Pride Month, we must take a stand against government leaders that are hellbent on stoking fear, and trying to criminalize transgender young people and their families.”

“Notwithstanding the clear language in the recent Texas Supreme Court ruling that Attorney General Paxton and Gov. Abbott do not have the power or authority to direct DFPS to investigate loving families who are providing medically necessary care for their transgender adolescents as child abuse, the agency seems determined to target these families and threaten to tear them apart,” Lambda Legal Senior Counsel Paul D. Castillo said. “With today’s filing, we are joining with PFLAG in working to protect all Texas families who simply want to make sure their children are safe, happy, and healthy. It is unconscionable that the state wants to interfere in that relationship.”

See here for some background, and here for a copy of the lawsuit, filed on behalf of two anonymous families plus the Briggle family. With the resumption of these investigations by DFPS, this is the only way for these folks to protect themselves. Based on what has happened so far I would expect them to get their restraining orders, and after that we’ll have to see what happens with the original case and its eventual appeals. Until we can get a better government in place, I hope we see more of these lawsuits, enough to cover everyone who will need it. The Trib has more.

DFPS to resume investigating families of trans kids

Gross and discouraging.

The state of Texas will restart its abuse investigations into families with transgender kids after a recent court ruling that lifted a statewide injunction on such probes.

In a statement on Thursday, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services said the agency would investigate all allegations of abuse. The statement, while not addressing the investigations into medical treatments for trans youth, indirectly indicated that these probes will now continue.

“DFPS treats all reports of abuse, neglect, and exploitation seriously and will continue to investigate each to the full extent of the law,” the statement read.

Current state law does not explicitly define gender-affirming medical treatments, such as puberty blockers and hormone therapy, as child abuse. A DFPS spokesman did not comment when asked if the agency plans to continue investigating such treatments as child abuse.

Age appropriate and individualized medical treatments for trans youth, including the ones Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has called abuse, are supported by the state and nation’s largest physicians groups including the American and Texas Medical Associations. These groups have opposed the state’s abuse investigations and other efforts to block or alter gender-affirming care for minors.

The state’s announcement came just days after the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the attorney general and Gov. Greg Abbott, who had directed the agency to investigate certain medical treatments for trans adolescents as child abuse, had no authority to do so. It put control over these probes back into the hands of protective services, which opened at least nine investigations into families with transgender children since the governor issued his directive in February.

One investigation into an agency employee who has a transgender daughter will remain paused while the family fights to overturn the abuse policy, the ruling stated.

[…]

Brian Klosterboer, an attorney with the ACLU of Texas who is on the team representing the unnamed DFPS employee, said the state’s decision to reopen the cases is unfortunate and unlawful. He said his team believes that the high court’s decision removes any responsibility for Texans to report trans youth getting treatments.

“We are going to be closely monitoring what the agency does. We would encourage families that have any reason to believe that they have an investigation to seek legal help,” Klosterboer said.

“Abbott’s letter and Paxton’s opinion did not change Texas law,” he added. “Gender-affirming health care is still legal in all 50 states.”

See here for the previous entry. The initial litigation is still ongoing – as is so often the case in these battles, the issue is over whether or not the law or in this case executive order can be enforced while the lawsuit is being heard – so there may still be a statewide injunction at some point. There’s also a clear path for other families to file similar lawsuits to get injunctions for themselves, similar to what abortion providers and funds were facing with SB8. It’s still a mess and a huge burden for these people that have done nothing wrong and just want to be left alone. And it’s another reason to vote these guys out in November. The Trib has more.

SCOTx issues mixed ruling on transgender child abuse investigations injunction

We’ll just have to see what happens next.

Texas’ child welfare agency remains blocked from investigating the family of a transgender teen that sued the state in March, but can once again investigate other families that provide gender-affirming care after the Supreme Court of Texas struck down a statewide injunction Friday.

Though it overturned the injunction on procedural grounds, the high court raised questions about why the Department of Family and Protective Services opened these investigations in the first place. The court affirmed in Friday’s ruling that neither Attorney General Ken Paxton nor Gov. Greg Abbott had any grounds to direct the agency’s actions.

[…]

“The Governor and the Attorney General were certainly well within their rights to state their legal and policy views on this topic, but DFPS was not compelled by law to follow them,” Friday’s ruling reads. “DFPS’s press statement, however, suggests that DFPS may have considered itself bound by either the Governor’s letter, the Attorney General’s Opinion, or both. Again, nothing before this Court supports the notion that DFPS is so bound.”

The ruling does note the myriad “informal mechanisms” through which elected officials can influence a state agency, but “ultimately, however, one department or another has the final say.”

[…]

In this case, the ruling said, DFPS was responsible for deciding whether these investigations aligned with current state regulations — and will now have to decide whether to continue these investigations and allow new ones to be opened.

DFPS employees have told The Texas Tribune that agency leadership has acknowledged that these investigations do not meet the current requirements for child abuse and have said policy would need to be generated to match the governor’s directives.

In March, a district judge granted an injunction blocking the state from continuing these investigations or opening new ones. Paxton appealed that decision to the Third Court of Appeals, which reinstated the statewide temporary injunction.

He then petitioned the Supreme Court of Texas to review that appeal. In Friday’s ruling, the high court agreed with Paxton that the appeals court overstepped — while the appeals court can reinstate an injunction if it “preserves the parties’ rights,” they cannot reinstate a temporary injunction of any nature.

In this case, the justices ruled, the “parties” are the family that sued the state initially — not all parents of all transgender children.

Ian Pittman, an Austin attorney representing two families of transgender children that are under investigation for child abuse, said the injunction had allowed his clients to “breathe a sigh of relief” while their investigations were paused. Although the investigations can resume, he’s hopeful that DFPS will now close out the cases.

“This ruling reaffirms that [DFPS Commissioner Jaime Masters] acted improperly when she acknowledged the directive and said they would follow it,” he said. “She was abdicating her responsibilities as commissioner to a political stunt that has no legal authority.”

If DFPS does not close out the cases, he expects other families may consider bringing suits to get any investigations against them similarly blocked.

See here and here for the most recent entries. There were multiple written opinions plus some concurrences and dissents, so just go here and look for case 22-0229 if you want to slog through them. I’ve seen varying reactions to the ruling and will link to them, but this Daily Kos piece is the closest to my own feelings.

Now, some folks are celebrating Friday’s ruling as a win, as the court does explicitly say the governor does not have the “authority to investigate, prosecute, or impose reporting requirements regarding child abuse allegations.” The court also pointed out that neither Abbott nor Paxton could “bind” the Department of Family and Protective Services’ (DFPS) “investigative authority.”

This all sounds encouraging, but again, the court didn’t rule on the ethics of the situation, but whether or not the lower courts were overstepping with the injunction holds. So … What happens now?

DFPS will decide whether or not to continue investigations, as well as whether or not they will open new ones. According to this ruling, the agency was responsible for determining if the investigations met state regulations, to begin with. Per The New York Times, it is not clear whether the ruling will cause the agency to resume investigations right away (or at all) or not.

If the department closes the cases, we can breathe a sigh of relief. If it doesn’t close the cases? It’s likely many more parents will sue the state.

For me? I’m taking it as a cautious win, but I’m not outright celebrating until the agency confirms those cases are closed and that more aren’t on the way.

I’m open to persuasion on this, but until and unless someone changes my mind, I’m waiting to see what DFPS does next, and hoping that as many parents of trans kids are preparing to file their own suits as possible, just in case. Here are statements from the ACLU and Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee, and the Chron, the Texas Signal, and the Texas Observer have more.

Paxton appeals to SCOTx to re-allow investigations of trans kids’ families

Of course he did.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has asked the state Supreme Court to intervene to allow child abuse investigations into parents of transgender children. His request comes just days after a Texas appeals court reinstated a temporary injunction blocking the state’s child welfare agency from investigating parents solely because they provide gender-affirming care to their children.

The Texas 3rd Court of Appeals issued the order as part of a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal on behalf of the parents of a transgender teenager who were being investigated by child welfare workers.

“Having reviewed the record, we conclude that reinstating the temporary injunction is necessary to maintain the status quo and preserve the rights of all parties,” three appellate justices wrote.

Paxton has asked the state Supreme Court to overturn that injunction, claiming in a petition filed Monday that the injunction “prevents the State from fulfilling its duty to protect Texas children.”

In a statement, the ACLU of Texas and Lambda Legal said that while Paxton’s petition is “not surprising, it is disappointing and dangerous.”

[…]

Until the Texas Supreme Court weighs in, the injunction will continue to block the ongoing — and any new — investigations into Texans accused of child abuse based only on the allegation that they provided gender-affirming medical care.

See here, here, and here for the background. Not much to add, the main thing to know is what’s in that last paragraph – the injunction remains in place until and unless SCOTx takes it away. They can take all the time they want.

Yes, the statewide injunction against investigations into the families of trans kids is in effect

Good.

A Texas appeals court on Monday reinstated a temporary injunction blocking Texas from investigating parents for child abuse if they allow their transgender children to receive gender-affirming care.

The Texas 3rd Court of Appeals issued the order as part of a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal on behalf of the parents of a transgender teenager who were being investigated by child welfare workers.

“Having reviewed the record, we conclude that reinstating the temporary injunction is necessary to maintain the status quo and preserve the rights of all parties,” three appellate justices wrote.

[…]

District Judge Amy Clark Meachum issued the temporary injunction March 11 after the ACLU and Lambda Legal sued.

The same night Meachum’s injunction was issued, Paxton filed an appeal and claimed he froze the injunction, allowing the state to continue investigations. However, experts said the appeal fell into a complicated legal area, and lawyers had challenged such automatic stays before, claiming the state should not be able to overturn an injunction simply by filing an appeal.

With Monday’s order, the injunction for now will continue to block the ongoing — and any new — investigations into Texans accused of child abuse based only on the allegation that they provided gender-affirming medical care.

See here and here for the background, and here for a copy of the Third Court’s order. Note that none of this is about the merits, just that as is usually the case the district court judge and now the court of appeals has ordered that the original status quo be maintained while the legal question is being answered. As noted when the original injunction was handed down, there will be a hearing in district court on July 11 for a permanent injunction, which is when the merits of the case will be decided.

According to the Chron, this decision will likely be appealed to the Supreme Court, though as of this writing that has not been announced yet. I don’t know if the same “automatic suspension of the injunction” policy that Paxton claimed for the first appeal would be in play in that situation or not, but I am sure that if it’s even a theoretical possibility, Ken Paxton will assert it. We’ll know soon enough.

Is that statewide injunction against investigations into the families of trans kids in effect?

Ken Paxton wants you to think it isn’t, but it’s not really up to him.

When a judge ruled Friday that Texas could not investigate parents for child abuse simply for providing gender-affirming care, it was immediately clear that the legal fight was far from over.

That same night, Attorney General Ken Paxton filed an appeal and then announced on Twitter that the “Democrat judge’s order permitting child abuse is frozen.”

He said that “[m]uch-needed investigations [will] proceed as they should,” and noted that his “fight will continue up to the Supreme Court.”

Lawyers representing the families of transgender children said they don’t believe the appeal should affect the injunction.

Legal experts say this case falls into a complicated corner of the law until the appeals court weighs in.

[…]

The appeal Paxton filed relies on an argument that would allow for an automatic stay in all trial court proceedings. In a statement, a spokesperson for the Attorney General said that there is “therefore no [temporary injunction] in place until the Third Court reinstates it. Investigations into child abuse may thus continue.”

“It’s up to the court of appeals to decide whether to reinstate the impact of the injunction,” said South Texas College of Law Houston professor Rocky Rhodes. “It’s not automatic, but I think that [the ACLU and Lambda Legal] will have a very strong case to have it reinstated.”

But lawyers have challenged these automatic stays before, claiming the state should not be able to overturn an injunction simply by filing an appeal. Attorney Chad Dunn represented the Texas Democratic Party in a case on mail-in voting in which Paxton made a similar argument.

“That would be an extraordinary rule,” Dunn said. “That is not the rule in federal court or other states that I’m familiar with, that you get an injunction against the state and they can just effectively ignore it until there’s been an appeal completed.”

Dunn said he has seen this argument appear only in recent years, and neither the state’s courts appeals courts or the Texas Supreme Court has definitively affirmed that the state has a right to overturn these injunctions.

“In the cases I’m familiar with, the Court of Appeals has either just glossed over this question or they just say … we’re empowered to issue injunctions, so we’re going to issue the same injunction and keep it in place until such time as we decide the appeal,” he said.

If the Court of Appeals grants similar relief, Rhodes said, that will remain in effect even if the case is appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, as Paxton has said it will be.

See here for the background. The plaintiffs’ lawyers have advised their clients that the injunction is in effect and to not participate in any further investigations, if they happen. DFPS itself issued a statement that says they are “following the law” without specifying what that means, which is entirely the question at hand. The Third Court of Appeals had previously denied Paxton’s appeal of the initial restraining order for wonky legal reasons. It seems likely to me that they will rule that the injunction remains in effect while the matter is being litigated, but it’s not clear to me when such an order from them might be forthcoming. There’s no case information on the Third Court’s website beyond the fact that a notice of appeal has been filed. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Statewide injunction issued against Abbott/Paxton witch hunt

Some good news to end the week.

State District Judge Amy Clark Meachum ruled Friday that providing gender-affirming care is not a reason for the state to investigate a family for child abuse, and halted all such investigations.

The statewide injunction will remain in effect until “this court, and potentially the Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court of Texas” hear the case, Meachum said.

Meachum said there is a “substantial likelihood” that lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal will prevail in getting Gov. Greg Abbott’s directive for such investigations permanently overturned, calling his actions “beyond the scope of his duty and unconstitutional.”

[…]

Since the directive, the state has opened nine investigations into families who provide this medical care to their children. The injunction stops the state from investigating anyone for child abuse based solely on the allegation that they provided gender-affirming medical treatment. It also stops anyone from being prosecuted for child abuse for providing gender-affirming care and lifts the mandatory reporting requirements laid out in the directive.

Meachum ruled that Abbott’s directive had the effect of a new law or agency rule “despite no new legislation, regulation or even stated agency policy,” which improperly encroached on the legislative arm of the government.

A DFPS supervisor who was called to testify at the Friday court hearing said that the child abuse investigations into families of transgender children are being held to a different standard than other cases.

Investigators can’t discuss cases with colleagues via text or email, and they are required to investigate the cases, even if there’s no evidence of abuse, said Randa Mulanax, an investigative supervisor with DFPS.

Mulanax has decided to resign as a result of this directive after six years with the agency.

“I’ve always felt that, at the end of the day, the department had children’s best interest at heart,” she said. “I no longer feel that way.”

[…]

Lawyers for the ACLU and Lambda argued in court Friday that Meachum should grant a statewide injunction on all of these investigations until the legitimacy of this directive can be argued in trial.

“The defendant’s directives and actions are traumatizing,” said ACLU of Texas attorney Brian Klosterboer. He added that the actions are “killing the ability of transgender youth to continue to get necessary care, and forcing physicians and mandatory reporters … to decide between civil and criminal penalties … and doing what’s right for the health of their patients.”

A lawyer for the state argued that simply opening a child abuse investigation into a family is not necessarily evidence of harm to that family, and that it would be overreach for “the judicial branch to infringe on the executive branch’s ability to perform such a critical task as ensuring the welfare of the state’s children.”

Mulanax said employees have been told not to communicate with colleagues about these cases via email or text message, which she described as unusual and “unethical.”

She said investigators have been told they cannot mark these cases as “priority none,” a designation staff members use when they believe a report does not merit investigation, and must alert department leadership and the general counsel when they’re working on one of these cases.

See here, here, and here for the background, and here for a statement from the ACLU. The state’s argument that merely having CPS open a child abuse investigation into your family is no big deal is just mind-boggling. Like, even if it does eventually go nowhere and the investigators come away telling you that you’re actually doing a swell job as parents, as they told the Briggles, a lot of trauma and very likely lasting damage to your reputation has already happened. I suppose Paxton, who knows a thing or two about being investigated by a grand jury, would argue that that’s no big deal either, since you haven’t been arrested yet. I can name at least two people who would vigorously disagree with that.

The Chron adds a few details.

District Court Judge Amy Clark Meachum, who ruled from the bench late Friday afternoon, said the plaintiffs would suffer “imminent and irreparable injury” if the directive were allowed to stay in place. Among those harms, she said, the mother, who is a DFPS employee, could lose her job; the family would face deprivation of their constitutional rights and the stigma of being subjects of a child abuse investigation; and the daughter would face the loss of necessary medical care.

So far, nine investigations have been opened against parents who are supporting their children’s medical care, DFPS spokesman Patrick Crimmins confirmed. The state and nation’s largest pediatric facility, Texas Children’s Hospital, has temporarily stopped prescribing gender-affirming hormone therapies, and Legacy Community Health has said it’s “analyzing available options.” Several months earlier another program in Dallas pulled its website and halted services to new patients.

“This vast overreach … establishes a new presumption of abuse by parents of transgender children who receive gender-affirming care, triggering investigations of families based solely on the provision of that care and prioritizing those investigations in an unprecedented way,” said Paul Castillo, Lambda Legal’s senior counsel, at the hearing Friday.

[…]

Also Friday, just down the street from the Austin courthouse, more than 100 advocates for LGBT Texans showed up at a public meeting to protest the policy. There were so many people that staff were still unfolding chairs as the meeting started, placing them all the way at the back of the room. Still others sat on the floor.

Dozens held pages of white printer paper in their hands, which contained what they described as statements written by parents of transgender youth who are too afraid of coming under investigation to speak publicly for themselves. The meeting was emotional and angry, and many speakers choked back tears.

“It’s so important that we look up with pride and confidence at the organization” that sets standards for safety for Texas children, said Marie Catrett, who said she has worked as a child care provider for 25 years. “And now I’m looking at this organization possibly being used as a political tool, again, against transgender children. … Your job is not to be political. Your job is to advocate for the safety of children based on facts, based on science, and not for political reasons.”

Outside, advocates held a rally calling for a public outcry against Abbott’s new directive.

Anne Lewis, a board member for Texas State Employees Union, said statements from rank-and-file staff indicate many think asking CPS workers to investigate these families “is baffling, hypocritical and disturbing.”

Lewis quoted one worker anonymously: “I am terrified for families with transgender children.” The worker said she had documented details about a family supporting their transgender teen and now is concerned those details will now be used against them.

Also at the rally was Sam Ames, from The Trevor Project, a LGBT suicide prevention group. He called Paxton’s guidance “a politically motivated opinion that is only going to pit the government against loving families, teachers against students, doctors against patients and neighbors against neighbors, which is language we should all find familiar and has never been on the right side of history.”

Seems Judge Meachum viewed that ridiculous state argument as I did. Of course, this has already been appealed:

Here’s hoping the injunction will at least stay in place as the litigation proceeds. There’s a hearing on July 11 for a permanent injunction if the appellate process allows it to happen at that time.

Ken Paxton repays the Briggle family for their hospitality

What a scumbag he is.

When the case worker asked to inspect the house, Amber and Adam Briggle first led her to the kitchen. They opened the cabinets to show they were full of food.

They moved on to the dining room. Every Sunday the Briggles and their two kids, now 14 and 9, sit in those chairs for dinner and talk about gymnastics or their new purple hair. It was around the dining room table where, six years earlier, Attorney General Ken Paxton and his wife, Angela, sat with the Briggle family eating steak kabobs and watermelon. But last month, Paxton issued a nonbinding legal opinion that gender-affirming health care for transgender kids, like the Briggles’ son, constitutes child abuse. Shortly after, Gov. Greg Abbott ordered the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) to investigate the parents of trans kids.

The Dallas-area family now says it is under investigation and at risk of losing the kids.

“When we were notified of the allegations, it was as if the wind had been knocked out of us. We wanted to scream and cry, but we had no air,” the couple wrote in a statement approved by their lawyer. “Raising a transgender child in Texas has been one long political emergency.”

Briggle said she learned of the investigation February 28, when she found a sticky note on her desk at the massage studio she owns saying she had missed an urgent private call. She assumed it was from another parent of a trans kid looking for advice. When she called the number, the woman on the line informed her that she was a Child Protective Services investigator, and she was 30 minutes away from the Briggle home.

The next 30 minutes went by in a blur, Briggle said. She managed to reach Adam, and they got family attorney Ian Pittman on the phone. They convinced the investigator to meet them at Briggle’s office. She would schedule another meeting for that Wednesday at the house.

“We told the children that they have the right to not answer questions,” the couple wrote in a statement. “We told them that the government is trying to spy on us even though we have done nothing wrong.”

[…]

In the meantime, families like the Briggles have been working feverishly to secure attorneys who will work pro bono, testimonials from friends and family, and home studies for a “safe folder,” an emergency packet of documents to demonstrate their parenting skills. The Briggles have filed a federal complaint against the state, Adam Briggle said.

“The Texas government has launched an effort to round up transgender children and send them off to a broken, overcrowded, and dysfunctional foster care system,” the Briggles wrote.

Last year, the legislature failed to pass a bill that would have labeled gender-affirming medical care as child abuse. Briggle testified against that bill. The couples say their family has been the subject of death threats and harassment ever since.

The family is terrified of speaking up about the investigation now, they said. But the couple is prepared to flee the state, and they worry that if no parents speak up, other trans kids will also face removal.

Adam is a tenured professor. Briggle owns a business. Both kids have a lot of friends. Leaving Texas would destroy their lives, they said.

“I really think that we need to start a contingency plan of that nature,” Adam said.

“If we have to become political refugees in our own country, then that’s what we do,” Briggle added. “But I don’t know where it’s safe.”

I wrote about the Paxtons’ dinner with the Briggles at the time. I did not believe that the Briggles’ generosity would have any effect on the Paxtons, and I’m sad to have been right about that. I can’t imagine what the Briggle family is going through right now. Just seeing them talk about the possibility of leaving the state is breathtaking, given that Amber Briggle was saying this on the same day that story was published:

Whatever the Briggles decide to do, they’re not the only parents who are thinking of fleeing. I can’t even type things like that without wanting to scream. If we’re lucky, there will be a statewide injunction against this cruel policy as soon as today. But that will be appealed, and who knows what happens after that. We also know that losing in court is not going to stop the Republicans, who are all in on hating transgender people now. I’ve said it many times, they’re going to have to lose elections over this. Like, a lot of elections. That’s not going to be easy. The Briggle family is out there doing their part. We all have to do ours.

This is a good start, if a belated one.

Sixty-five major U.S. companies who do business in Texas are calling on Gov. Greg Abbott to reverse his order requiring the state’s child welfare agency to investigate gender-affirming care for transgender youth as a form of child abuse by their parents.

The companies, including Apple, Dow, Google, Johnson & Johnson, Meta and PayPal, in conjunction with the LGBT advocacy nonprofit Human Rights Campaign took out full-page print and digital advertisements in the Dallas Morning News that state in all capital, bold letters: “Discrimination is bad for business.”

“The recent attempt to criminalize a parent for helping their transgender child access medically necessary, age-appropriate health care in the state of Texas goes against the values of our companies,” they wrote. “This policy creates fear for employees and their families, especially those with transgender children, who might now be faced with choosing to provide the best possible medical care for their children but risk having those children removed by child protective services for doing so.”

So far, there are nine new CPS investigations statewide involving parents who are supporting their children’s medical care, said Patrick Crimmins, spokesperson for the state Department of Families and Protective Services. But advocates and lawyers say even just the fear of an investigation is putting immense stress on Texas families with transgender children.

Good for them, but there are a lot more companies that do business in Texas. Where are they? As that Trib story I linked to above points out, the Republican animosity towards the transgender community (as well as some other social issues) has caused a rift between them and their longtime benefactors in the business world, because they care about homophobia and transphobia and “critical race theory” and voter suppression so much more. When is the business community going to recognize this and start acting accordingly?

As a reminder, this is the system that Abbott and Paxton want to put these children into.

Employees at a state-contracted foster care facility established to help female victims of sex trafficking were instead trafficking the children staying there, state officials said Thursday.

The Bastrop operation, called The Refuge, has served 11 children ages 11 to 17. State officials began receiving reports of sexual abuse at the facility in late January, when a staffer alleged that a former employee had sold nude photos of two young girls and used the money to purchase illegal drugs and alcohol for them.

More accusations were made in the following weeks, and state investigators discovered that several staffers still employed at The Refuge were involved in the criminal activity. In total, there are seven alleged victims and nine alleged perpetrators, state officials said at an emergency court hearing Thursday afternoon.

All of the children were finally removed from the facility on Wednesday. One staff member has been arrested, and additional criminal charges are expected, officials said.

“The most appalling thing about this is the disregard of these children and you had to wait to get eight calls before you took 11 female already-trafficked children out of this trafficking situation,” said U.S. District Judge Janis Jack, who has overseen a decade-long lawsuit over the state’s foster care conditions. “This is a system that remains broken.”

The matter came to light Thursday, after the state Department of Family and Protective Services notified court-appointed monitors of the “urgent situation” at The Refuge. Jack blasted state officials for withholding the information from the monitors for several weeks, and for failing to remove the children after the first reports of abuse.

Emphasis mine. Such a commitment to “protecting” children Abbott and Paxton have. Maybe this should be a bigger story? I’m just saying. The Trib has more.

One more thing:

My family has personal experience with evidence-based gender-affirming health care at Texas Children’s Hospital. An amazing team of professionals lovingly guided us through a process that involved months of discernment with an incredible array of best-in-the-world physicians, social workers and mental health professionals. And our child’s quality of life immediately improved. Everything we did was medically necessary. We cannot imagine the devastation we would feel at being told “our lawyers say we cannot provide the medically necessary health care you desperately need.”

Last week, Texas Children’s announced that it would halt gender-affirming procedures. The hospital leaders should know that this is exactly the result Rep. Matt Krause, Attorney General Ken Paxton and Gov. Greg Abbott hoped would occur with their thinly-veiled circumvention of the democratic process: chaos and fearful reactions.

[…]

Abbott not only used Paxton’s legal opinion but misrepresented it to instruct the state to investigate families. In his letter to Department of Family and Protective Services Commissioner Jaime Masters, Abbott states that the attorney general determined that the gender-affirming health care procedures about which Krause inquired “constitute child abuse under existing Texas law.” Abbott completely ignored the express limitations in Paxton’s opinion. As a former Texas attorney general himself and a former justice on the Texas Supreme Court, it is fair to assume Abbott understands the difference. Frankly, the sheer political expedience of his actions seriously endangering the lives of the very children he should be protecting is beyond reprehensible — it is diabolical.

Finally, the simple truth is that Texas Children’s Hospital has allowed the Abbott/Paxton scheme to work by failing to stand up for the right of physicians (not politicians) to determine the medical standards of care for transgender youth. The hospital explanation was that it made the decision to halt care “to safeguard our healthcare professionals and impacted families from potential criminal legal ramifications.” While it is wrong for politicians in Austin to decide what the medical standard of care should be, it is also wrong for lawyers rather than physicians at the leading clinical and teaching children’s hospital in the world — located in the Texas Medical Center of Houston, literally the apex of medicine — to determine standards of medical care.

More importantly, the hospital has missed this opportunity to stand up for their patients. The hospital has left families like ours out in the cold and dashed the hopes of transgender kids just wanting to be their authentic selves.

Instead of using lawyers to dictate medical standards of care, put them to use in the legal arena fighting for medical independence of physicians and the rights of your patients. Don’t succumb, fight back. File a petition in intervention or an amicus brief in support of the lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Texas and Lambda Legal. Show up. Be courageous. Make the voices of the best medical experts in the world heard on these issues. Your silence is deafening.

See here for the background. Whether we get that statewide injunction or not, I agree with this. Texas Children’s Hospital, the other hospitals that have halted gender affirming care, the physicians who treat trans kids, the Texas Medical Association, all of them and more should be doing their part to fight back. If not now, then when?

Appeals court denies Paxton appeal of gender affirming care order

Good.

A Texas appeals court sided with the parents of a transgender teenager in a ruling Wednesday, rejecting Attorney General Ken Paxton’s efforts to allow a child abuse investigation to proceed.

The ruling will allow a lower court to hold a hearing, scheduled for Friday, where lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal will ask a judge to stop the state from launching child abuse investigations against parents who have obtained gender-affirming care for their transgender children.

“This crisis in Texas is continuing every day, with state leaders weaponizing the Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate families, invade their privacy, and trample on the rights of parents simply for providing the best possible health care for their kids under the guidance of doctors and medical best practices. This appeal was always groundless and DFPS and the courts need to stop this egregious government overreach,” said Brian Klosterboer, an attorney with ACLU of Texas.

[…]

The state has opened at least five child welfare investigations into parents of trans children since Abbott issued his directive on Feb. 22, though the real number may be much higher. The state has declined to provide the number of active investigations, citing the pending litigation.

The ACLU and Lambda Legal have sued on behalf of a state worker who has a trans child and alleges she was put on leave and investigated by CPS after asking questions about the directive.

Last week, state District Judge Amy Clark Meachum granted a temporary restraining order blocking the state from investigating the family. Paxton immediately appealed that ruling, and on Wednesday, the Texas 3rd Court of Appeals ruled that it did not have jurisdiction to proceed.

Meachum also scheduled a hearing for Friday to hear arguments on whether to grant a temporary injunction until trial, and whether it should extend to all parents of transgender children.

See here and here for the background. I found a copy of the opinion here – it either wasn’t findable on the Third Court of Appeals website or they just didn’t have it loaded yet. The case information is here. This was a wonky and technical matter of whether the state could appeal a temporary restraining order at this time – you can just skim it to get the gist. Among other things, it means that if Judge Meachum does issue a statewide injunction following the Friday hearing, this will get appealed again, and I imagine it will be on an express lane to the Supreme Court. How it all might go is anyone’s guess. For now at least, this family has a bit of relief, and I hope every other family in that same terrible position will get the same soon.

Paxton appeals gender affirming care order

Of course he did.

Attorney General Ken Paxton filed for an appeal Thursday after a state judge blocked Texas’ child protection agency from investigating the parents of a transgender teenager who received gender-affirming medical care.

District Judge Amy Clark Meachum had granted a temporary restraining order on Wednesday. It did not stop the agency from opening investigations into other families in similar situations.

Meachum was scheduled to consider issuing a statewide injunction blocking such investigations into all parents of trans children on March 11, but that hearing has been put on hold until an appeals court rules on Paxton’s request.

And U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said his agency is looking into tools that would shield transgender Texans from the state’s attempts to hinder access to gender-affirming care.

“The Texas government’s attacks against transgender youth and those who love and care for them are discriminatory and unconscionable,” he said. “These actions are clearly dangerous to the health of transgender youth in Texas.”

[…]

Becerra released guidance Wednesday that says refusing health care because of gender identity is illegal and that health care providers are not required to disclose information regarding gender-affirming care.

President Joe Biden also released a statement Wednesday condemning Texas’ actions.

“This is government overreach at its worst,” Biden said in a statement. “Like so many anti-transgender attacks proliferating in states across the country, the Governor’s actions callously threaten to harm children and their families just to score political points. These actions are terrifying many families in Texas and beyond. And they must stop.”

See here for the background. This is primarily about preventing Judge Meachum from being able to issue a statewide injunction, since the hearing for that action is on hold pending the appeal. The Third Court is more likely than not to deny Paxton’s appeal, but then he’ll go to the Supreme Court, and who knows how long that could take. And delay is good enough for Paxton and Abbott and their wicked aims.

Texas Children’s Hospital has “paused” hormone-related prescription therapies for gender-affirming care in response to the controversial directive from state leaders to investigate medical treatments for transgender youth as child abuse, according to a statement from the hospital.

“The mission of Texas Children’s Hospital is to create a healthier future for all children, including transgender children, within the bounds of the law,” the statement reads. “After assessing the Attorney General’s and Governor’s actions, Texas Children’s Hospital paused hormone-related prescription therapies for gender-affirming services. This step was taken to safeguard our healthcare professionals and impacted families from potential criminal legal ramifications.”

[…]

Lou Weaver, a transgender man and community advocate for transgender children and adults, said very few facilities offer gender-affirming care for children, and Texas Children’s is among the biggest programs in Texas that offered it.

“This is a truly frightening time for trans youth and their parents and guardians,” he said. “The doors to life-saving health care are literally being shut in their faces.”

UT Southwestern’s children’s hospital in Dallas shut down services for new patients at the end of the last legislative session due to political pressure, Weaver said.

I can’t blame Texas Children’s for not wanting to risk the legal exposure, but this is truly harmful and there’s not a clear endpoint. That harm is also financial for the families involved. I don’t know what the feds can do, but they need to figure it out quickly.

And in what may be the most infuriating but least surprising part of this, the opinion Paxton issued was based on misreading studies and making false claims.

One researcher said Paxton distorted her work for political purposes and that she’s “mortified” her research was included in the opinion.

Alexandra Minna Stern, a professor of history at the University of Michigan, studies the history of forced sterilization in the United States. Paxton’s office drew a parallel between forced sterilization and gender affirmation surgeries for minors. “I’m adamantly opposed to this interpretation and it does not align with my research and the conclusions of my research,” she said.

“If they knew anything about my scholarship more generally, they would know that I am someone whose research demonstrates the harm of the very types of policies they’re trying to enact on marginalized people.”

[…]

In his opinion, Paxton cited the work of Dr. Cecilia Dhejne, a Stockholm-based researcher, to support the idea that gender-affirming health care could be harmful to transgender children.

Dhejne led a 2011 study that found that transgender people who have undergone gender-affirmation surgery have worse mental health outcomes than the general population. Dhejne did not respond to a request for comment. However, in the text of the 2011 study, Dhejne and her team caution specifically against using the study to conclude that gender-affirming surgery is problematic, noting that the study did not compare the mental health outcomes of people before and after gender-affirming surgery.

The study’s “results should not be interpreted such as sex reassignment per se increases morbidity and mortality. Things might have been even worse without sex reassignment,” the study says.

Dhejne and her colleagues wrote instead that the study shows a need for better support for transgender people after they undergo surgery.

Paxton also asserts that there has been a recent “spike” in minors receiving gender-affirming “procedures.” He cited the Society for Evidence Based Gender Medicine, an anti-trans advocacy group.

The link in Paxton’s citation leads to a graph showing an increase in youth referrals to the United Kingdom’s Gender Identity Development Service. That national clinic provides a range of care, including counseling; the number of clinic referrals is not necessarily the number of medical interventions like the legal opinion implies.

Similarly, Paxton’s opinion cited the World Professional Association for Transgender Health and said that transgender people should typically be adults before receiving the listed types of gender-affirming care.

In a statement to the Star-Telegram, WPATH said that Paxton applied the citation too broadly. While WPATH does state in its standards of care that genital surgery should typically wait until a transgender person reaches the age of majority, Paxton’s opinion applied that standard to less-invasive interventions, too, including puberty blockers.

“It’s disheartening to see the Texas Attorney General’s opinion referencing WPATH to bolster an overall argument completely at odds with WPATH guidance,” the organization said in a written statement. “The citation is accurate but does not apply here because the AG’s opinion is arguing against reversible blockers while the cited WPATH content relates to gender affirming surgery.”

There’s a lot more and you should read the rest, but you get the idea. Lying has never bothered Ken Paxton. It’s serving him pretty well right now. The Statesman has more.

Investigation into trans teen’s family halted

It’s a start.

A state judge blocked Texas’ child protection agency from investigating the parents of a transgender teenager who received gender-affirming medical care, citing the “irreparable injury” they would likely suffer. District Judge Amy Clark Meachum’s ruling does not stop the agency from opening investigations into other families in similar situations.

The American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal brought a lawsuit challenging these investigations on behalf of a state employee, her husband and their 16-year-old who received gender-affirming treatment, plus Dr. Megan Mooney, a psychologist who works with trans teenagers.

Meachum will consider issuing a statewide injunction blocking such investigations into all parents of trans children on March 11.

“We appreciate the relief granted to our clients, but this should never have happened and is unfathomably cruel,” Brian Klosterboer, an attorney with ACLU of Texas, said in a statement. “Families should not have to fear being separated because they are providing the best possible health care for their children.”

[…]

Lambda Legal lawyer Paul Castillo said he was aware of at least two other families, beyond the Does, who have been contacted by DFPS for investigations. And the chilling effect for parents of trans children has been immense, he said.

“Families aside from [those investigated] will cease care,” he said. “As a result of this order … medical providers have stopped care in terms of prescriptions to transgender kids because the threat of continuing to provide, the harm is so great.”

In Wednesday’s hearing, a lawyer for the state argued that the governor’s letter has been misconstrued to imply that all parents who provide gender-affirming care would be investigated by DFPS.

The opinion from the attorney general was intended to show “not that gender-affirming treatments are necessarily or per se abusive, but that these treatments, like virtually any other implement, could be used by somebody to harm a child,” Assistant Attorney General Ryan Kercher said.

Kercher argued that Abbott’s letter was merely clarifying a “concern” that gender-affirming treatments could never be considered child abuse.

Meachum challenged that argument, asking how common it is for the governor to issue directives like this to DFPS. Kercher said he did not know.

See here, here, and here for the background. A copy of the order is here and the ACLU’s statement is here. The state’s argument that people have “misconstrued” Abbott’s order is one part baffling, one part brazen bullshit, and one part maybe a bit of backpedaling. I get the impression they really didn’t have an argument and so went for the “that’s not what I meant” defense. Let’s just cut to the part where the judge issues the injunction, shall we?

Lawsuit filed to block investigation of gender-affirming care for trans teenager

This was inevitable. I very much hope it is successful.

The state of Texas is investigating a family for child abuse after the parents obtained gender-affirming care for their 16-year-old transgender daughter. It’s believed to be among the first of these probes since the governor directed the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to target such care a week ago.

The child’s mother — a DFPS employee who reviews cases of abuse and neglect — has been placed on leave after asking for clarification from her supervisor about the recent executive branch orders.

The investigation came to light on Tuesday — the day of the Texas primary elections — in a lawsuit the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal filed in Austin on the family’s behalf to block investigations of families seeking such medical care for their children.

The suit names both Gov. Greg Abbott and the Department of Family and Protective Services as defendants.

“No family should have to fear being torn apart because they are supporting their trans child,” Adri Pérez, a policy and advocacy strategist at the ACLU of Texas, said in a statement. “A week before an election, Gov. Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a partisan political attack that isn’t rooted in the needs of families, the evidence from doctors and the expertise from child welfare professionals.”

The action is the first legal challenge in response to Abbott’s directive last week to child welfare officials to investigate parents of transgender children for child abuse. The order came within days after an opinion issued by Paxton, which classified certain types of gender-affirming care as child abuse.

[…]

Last week, the agency confirmed that three reports of transgender children receiving gender-affirming care were made through the child abuse reporting system. On Tuesday, the agency declined further comment other than to say it was aware of the ACLU suit. The governor’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the lawsuit.

The teenager’s family is not named. The lawsuit instead refers to the parents as Jane and John Doe and the daughter as Mary Doe. When an investigator visited the family’s home last Friday, they interviewed the parents and the child, the lawsuit states. The family has so far refused to hand over the girl’s medical records to the agency.

If the agency determines the family has committed child abuse, the parents would be placed on a child abuse registry and the mother could be fired, according to the suit.

The mother said in the lawsuit that she and her husband have “been unable to sleep, worrying about what they can do and how they can keep their family intact and their daughter safe and healthy.”

Houston-based clinical psychologist Megan Mooney is also named as a plaintiff. Mooney is now required by state law to report her clients receiving gender-affirming care, but she stated in the suit that complying with the governor’s directive raised ethical concerns.

See here and here for the background. The ACLU’s press release, which contains a link to the complaint, is here. You might give a listen to Tuesday’s What Next podcast, which explored this terrible action by Abbott and Paxton and the effect it is already having on people, including children, who have done absolutely nothing wrong. This is happening now. It’s hard for me to even form sentences about this without wanting to scream, so please use this as some extra motivation to vote these awful people out of office this November. We may win this in court, but as long as these assholes have power, this will continue and it will get worse. The Chron has more.

Federal judge halts Arkansas law against gender affirming care for trans kids

Of interest.

In an in-person hearing in Little Rock on Wednesday, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction to block an Arkansas law that criminalizes gender-affirming care for transgender kids.

U.S. District Judge James M. Moody Jr.’s bench ruling was made in response to a lawsuit from the ACLU, which argues that Arkansas’ law violates the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause and the First Amendment right to free speech. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of four trans kids and their families in Arkansas, plus two physicians working in the state.

Still, legal advocates warn that a rare amicus brief signals that the battles over legislation targeting trans youth are not over.

[…]

The legal battle over Arkansas’ ban — the only one of its kind to be passed in the United States — also attracted the interest of 17 state attorneys general, who filed an amicus brief last week to bolster support for Arkansas’ law. Nearly all of the states that backed the brief have introduced their own bills to ban gender-affirming care, bar trans kids from playing sports that match their gender identity, or prevent them from discussing their identities in school, according to a bill tracker by Freedom For All Americans.

Four of the states that signed the brief through their attorney general — Alabama, Mississippi, South Dakota and Tennessee — enacted legislation this year to ban trans youth from sports that match their gender identity. Idaho, which also counseled on the brief, signed its ban on trans kids’ sports participation in March 2020.

Two attorneys told The 19th that such a brief is largely unprecedented, although any weight it carried in Moody’s decision on Wednesday was unclear. It is not guaranteed that a federal judge would take a brief like this into account.

Ezra Ishmael Young, a civil rights attorney and founding board member of the National Trans Bar Association, did not recall a similar brief ever being filed about trans kids’ health care at the trial level.

“It’s very rare for an amicus brief to be filed by a bunch of states that have no stake in the actual issue at all,” Young said, adding that it takes time to coordinate a response from so many attorneys general.

“It’s not totally unusual for AGs to team up and push their state’s policy preferences in courts outside their jurisdiction,” he said. “What makes this tack odd here is that the AGs are pushing for policy preferences that have been soundly rejected by their legislature, sometimes repeatedly.”

Carl Charles, a Lambda Legal staff attorney, told the 19th that the brief — which also he sees as unprecedented, based on research undertaken by him and his paralegal — is concerning on another level.

“To write affirmatively in support of an outlier law in one state, where there are no related laws on the books in their respective states … they have nothing really to stand on in terms of, ‘We’ve passed these similar laws and we’re in support,’” he said.

“They’re essentially taking an inherently political position and one that’s outside the scope of their office, which is to say, ‘We have an interest in seeing this law stand because we too want to pass a law like this.’ Well, that’s not the AG’s job. The AG’s job is not to pass laws. The AG’s job is to enforce the laws on the books,” he said.

As we know, Greg Abbott is plotting some executive action to block this health care for trans kids, so this ruling is quite timely. Arkansas is not in the Fifth Circuit, so the ruling would not apply here, but it’s significant nonetheless. Also significant is that the state of Texas and its felonious AG Ken Paxton were on that amicus list, as I’m sure you’re not surprised to hear. None of this is going to stop Abbott from doing whatever he plans to do, but there will very likely be a legal roadblock in his way once he does do it.

Senate is right back on the anti-trans agenda

In case you were wondering.

The Texas Senate on Monday quickly revived and advanced a bill banning gender-affirming health care for children under 18, days after a similar House bill failed to advance in the lower chamber.

Under Senate Bill 1311, any physician who prescribes hormone therapy or puberty suppression treatment for the purpose of gender transitioning would have their medical license revoked and could not be covered under liability insurance. It would also apply to doctors who perform transition-related surgeries for children, which is rarely used before puberty. The Senate gave the bill initial approval in a 17-13 vote. The bill still needs a final approval in the upper chamber before it can be considered by the House.

LGBTQ advocates have decried the bill as unconstitutional and criticized its negative impact on mental health. In a Senate State Affairs committee hearing, transgender Texans and medical experts testified that access to gender confirmation care is key to reducing the elevated risks of suicide and depression among transgender Texans. Businesses leaders also singled out S.B. 1311 as a bill they say may scare workers and businesses away from Texas.

The bill’s author, Edgewood Republican Bob Hall, said its intent was to improve the mental health of Texans who may later come to regret their transition, citing statistics that many children may cease to experience gender dysphoria later in life.

However, experts have said those studies often include children who aren’t transgender, but just don’t conform to typical gender norms, such as a boy who plays with dolls.

[…]

Last week, Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Texas vowed to challenge in court House Bill 1399, the House’s version of the ban, if it passed. Though the bill later failed to meet a deadline in the House last week, Shelly Skeen, a senior attorney for Lambda Legal said the bills were “nearly identical” and presented similar legal issues.

See here for the previous update. Two things you need to keep in mind. One is that Bob Hall is a hydroxychlorquine humper, which among many other things makes him completely unqualified to offer any medical opinions about anything. And two, I’ll let Ross Ramsey explain.

[L]awmakers have a sprint in front of them as they hurry to finish the work they promised voters earlier in the session. They have two weeks left on the calendar, but earlier deadlines loom on their internal calendars. It’s already too late for a House bill to be considered for the first time in the House; another deadline — for Senate bills — comes next Tuesday.

The legislation promised and proposed after February’s storm and the outages that came with it — from a warning system for the state when something like that is approaching to weatherization that would help electric plants stay in operation — still hasn’t won legislative approval.

The state budget is pending, but on track. But lawmakers haven’t explained how they’ll spend billions in federal relief money that isn’t included in that budget. That’s still on the list. So are many of the police reforms promised by Abbott and others after Minneapolis police killed George Floyd almost a year ago.

The list of things still undone is formidable — a regular feature of this stage of a legislative session.

Lawmakers haven’t finished yet, but they haven’t had to. Now they’re up against a hard deadline. That’s when we find out what they really think is necessary.

This is what the Senate has prioritized. Never forget that. This is what 2022 has to be about.

Not sure where we are with the anti-trans bills

In limbo, to be honest.

A controversial bill that would ban gender-affirming health care for transgender children missed a key deadline Thursday for consideration in the Texas House.

But a similar Senate bill still has time to be approved by both chambers before the legislative session ends May 31. Senate Bill 1311 also bans gender-affirming treatment and mandates the revocation of a physician’s medical license if someone performs or prescribes such treatment. That bill passed out of committee nearly a month ago. Hours before the House’s deadline to pass many of its own bills, the Senate legislation appeared on a list of bills that could let the upper chamber take up the measure as soon as Friday.

House Bill 1399 targeted gender-confirmation surgery, hormone therapy and puberty suppression treatments. Bill supporters say children could later regret such medical care, which is considered best practice by several major medical associations. Under the bill, physicians who performed or prescribed those treatments could face disciplinary action or be denied a medical license.

“It’s harmful to debate anybody’s basic human and civil rights and to bring humanity into question as something that is not valid,” said Adri Perez, policy and advocacy strategist for the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas. “That has a lasting impact on people and whether or not they can conceptualize a future for themselves in the state of Texas.”

Shelly Skeen, senior attorney for Lambda Legal, called the bill “one of the most extreme anti-transgender bills in the country” in a statement. Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Texas had decried the bill as unconstitutional and vowed to challenge it in court if it had become law.

There has been a slate of anti-transgender bills in the Texas Legislature this session, many of them still active. Senate Bill 1646, which would label the treatments as child abuse, passed the Senate and is waiting to be heard by the House Public Health Committee that approved HB 1399.

This story is a bit confusing, and I haven’t found anything relevant on Twitter to clarify matters. As I understand it, the Friday deadline was for House bills that have passed out of committee to be brought to the floor. Any House-originated bills that hadn’t been approved by the House by Friday night at midnight were no longer eligible to be voted on by the Senate. That appears to be the fate of HB1399, the bill to deny medical treatment to trans kids. That’s good news, but SB1311 does more or less the same thing, but has not yet been voted on by the Senate. It would need Senate approval and to go through the full House process, which means it is short on time. There’s also SB1646, the bill that defines giving medical treatment to trans kids as child abuse, which has passed the Senate and is awaiting a House hearing. The goal here is for it to never make it out of committee, and I expect that’s where advocates will spend much of their energy. Finally, there’s SB29, the anti-trans sports bill that Harold Dutton resuscitated in a fit of pique, and which is farthest along. All it needs is approval from the House, and then possibly a conference committee if the House amends it in some way.

That, as far as I can tell, is where we stand with the headline bills. There are other bills out there that didn’t get as much attention, and if they originated in the House and didn’t get passed on Friday, they’re mostly off the table. There’s always the possibility of an otherwise dead bill getting attached to some other piece of legislation, which can work but can also subject the bill to death by point of order. These last two weeks are where most of the shenanigans occur, so stay awake and be ready to respond to a sudden call to action. The Chron has more.

We still need that equality bill in the Lege

That SCOTUS ruling was huge, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.

LGBTQ Texans marked a major victory Monday when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that federal civil rights law prevents employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. But in Texas, which did not have such workplace safeguards, LGBTQ lawmakers and advocates say they are far from done fighting for other essential protections.

Employment discrimination protections, they say, are necessary but not sufficient for advancing the equal treatment of LGBTQ Texans. Thanks to Monday’s ruling, Texans can no longer be fired for their sexual orientation or gender identity, but there is no state law explicitly preventing landlords from refusing to rent homes to LGBTQ Texans, for example.

Members of the Texas House LGBTQ Caucus are setting their sights on a comprehensive set of nondiscrimination protections that would codify the employment protections in state law, as well as guarantee LGBTQ Texans equal access to housing, health care and other public accomodations.

It will not be an easy bill to pass.

[…]

“We can’t look at this as being a partisan or political issue — it’s a human issue,” said Democratic state Rep. Jessica González, vice chair of the LGBTQ Caucus. “And in order to create a change in mind, you need to create a change in heart.”

González announced in May that she would spearhead the fight for a comprehensive nondiscrimination bill during the next regular legislative session in 2021 with Republican state Reps. Sarah Davis of West University Place and Todd Hunter of Corpus Christi.

“We rolled it out early to start the conversation,” González said.

In pushing for comprehensive nondiscrimination protections, LGBTQ lawmakers and their allies are also making an economic case. Big businesses like Amazon and Google have been major advocates for LGBTQ Texans over the last few years, telling lawmakers that to attract the best talent to their Texas offices, they need to guarantee workers equal rights in their communities.

“It is the business community’s voice that has been one of the loudest and strongest advocates for the LGBT community over the years,” said Tina Cannon, executive director of the Austin LGBT Chamber of Commerce.

Still, advocates have acknowledged that Monday’s ruling, while exhilirating the LGBTQ community, may also stir up opposition.

“I do think this is going to galvanize the folks who don’t want us to be at the same level,” Shelly Skeen, a senior attorney with the LGBTQ rights group Lambda Legal, said during a virtual briefing after Monday’s ruling. “So we got even more work to do, but I think we got some great momentum behind us.”

LGBTQ Caucus members have already made major progress since 2017, when LGBTQ advocates spent much of the legislative session playing defense as they fought back a controversial “bathroom bill” that would have limited transgender Texans’ access to certain public spaces. It was championed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and hardline conservative groups.

See here for more on that SCOTUS ruling, and here for more on the equality bill. Dems taking the House is probably the only path to this bill making it out of the lower chamber, where it will never get a hearing in the Senate. The best we can do is get everyone on the record, and fight like hell to elect more Democratic Senators in 2022, as well as un-electing Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton, by far the two biggest obstacles to getting a real equality bill enacted. Yeah, I’ve got Paxton there ahead of Greg Abbott, who I could sort of maybe imagine going with the flow if he gets enough pressure from business and the wingnut fringe has been somewhat neutered. Electing some Democrats to the State Supreme Court would also help, and that we can do this year as well. The things to remember are 1) this is going to take more than one session; 2) the more elections we win, the closer we will be able to get; and 3) we cannot ease up, not even a little, because it will always be possible to go backwards. Eyes on the prize, and get people elected to do the job. That’s what it is going to take.

Houston city employees file their own lawsuit (again) on spousal benefits

A shame it’s had to come to this, but this is where we are.

On Thursday, three married couples from Houston filed a lawsuit in federal court aimed at forcing the city to preserve health coverage and other benefits for same-sex spouses of city employees. That’s because, despite the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which affirmed same-sex marriage nationwide, the Texas Supreme Court this summer opted for something more like marriage equality-lite, ruling that same-sex spouses of government employees in Texas aren’t guaranteed the actual benefits of marriage such as dental, health or life insurance.

Kenneth Upton is a Dallas lawyer and senior counsel with the LGBT rights group Lambda Legal, which is representing the married couples that filed Thursday’s lawsuit. He says it’s become clear Texas state courts have no intention of upholding marriage equality.

“I don’t know a judge in the Southern District of Texas that’s going to thumb their nose at both the Fifth Circuit and the Supreme Court,” he told the Observer on Thursday. “We need to be in federal court, because that’s who’s going to follow the law.”

[…]

Upton says the Texas courts’ handling of marriage equality post-Obergefell has been “an almost Alice in Wonderland kind of scenario,” which is why Lambda Legal wants to move the issue to the federal courts. “What makes it so offensive is there’s no question what the law is.”

One of Upton’s clients is a Houston police officer. “She puts her life on the line for the city and the people who live there every day,” he said. Were she to die in the line of duty, Upton said, “her surviving spouse would be treated differently than that of a straight officer, and that’s just offensive.”

See here and here for the recent background. The Associated Press adds some details:

Alan Bernstein, a spokesman for Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, said in a statement the city, as does the state of Texas, offers employees coverage for all legally married spouses without regard to sex.

“As Mayor Sylvester Turner said in June, ‘The city of Houston will continue to be an inclusive city that respects the legal marriages of all employees. Marriage equality is the law of the land, and everyone is entitled to the full benefits of marriage, regardless of the gender of their spouse,'” Bernstein said.

But the mayor might not have a choice if ordered by a judge to stop paying them, Upton said.

“The city is caught in the middle,” he said.

Upton said he expects the Harris County civil court judge will grant the motion for an injunction blocking the payment of benefits because the judge has granted similar requests twice before.

Also named in Thursday’s lawsuit are the two Houston residents who initially filed the lawsuit in 2013 asking that the city stop paying such benefits and who were backed by a coalition of religious and socially conservative groups.

See here for more on the original lawsuit, here for the Lambda Legal overview of the case, and here for a copy of the complaint. This bit, from Section VI on the Current Litigation, explains where we are and why this lawsuit needed to be filed:

52. The Texas Supreme Court has not yet issued its mandate returning jurisdiction to the state district court. Nonetheless, the Taxpayers prematurely filed an Amended Petition and Brief seeking a new preliminary injunction against the Mayor and the City to prohibit them from continuing benefits to same-sex spouses of employees, including the Plaintiffs. The filing also shows the Taxpayers will request an order requiring the City to claw back benefits previously paid for spousal coverage to same-sex spouses of City employees, including Plaintiffs.

53. Barring the filing of a petition for rehearing by the City or a stay granted pending a petition for certiorari to the United States Supreme Court, the Texas Court’s mandate will vest jurisdiction back in the trial court as early as August 17, 2017, at which time there is a substantial likelihood the state district court will issue another temporary injunction—the third one issued by that court—ordering the City to withdraw, and even claw back (i.e., demand immediate reimbursement from the employees), spousal benefits from the City Employees and their Spouses without further notice.

Both of the previous injunctions were overturned by federal court order. That’s the goal here, to prevent or knock down another such injunction. Please note that the state court lawsuit was filed in the 310th Family District Court, presided over by Judge Lisa Millard, the granter of those injunctions. Judge Millard is up for election next year, and Democrat Sonya Heath has filed to run against her; Heath does not currently have a primary opponent. Elections have consequences, and that will be your opportunity to create some. The Dallas Voice has more.

Feds officially file appeal in transgender bathroom directive lawsuit

This may be the last stop.

With two weeks left, the Obama administration has asked a federal appeals court to throw out a lower court’s decision that suspended policies designed to protect transgender people’s access to restrooms — a sign the current leadership of the Justice Department will close shop mid-fight on one of its signature LGBT issues.

Federal lawyers said in a brief filed Friday with the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit that the previous ruling was incorrect and overly broad.

[…]

With their remedies waning in the lower court — and time running out — the Justice Department’s Civil Division made three arguments to the Fifth Circuit.

The Justice Department said the case is not ripe for judicial review because the government did not violate the Administrative Procedure Act, as Texas and the other states claimed. The guidance for schools and workplaces are not final acts by any agency, the appeal says, and therefore did not require a rule-making process under the APA.

Federal lawyers further contend the states lack standing to bring the case because they “can ignore [the guidance] without legal consequence.” They note that enforcement stems from civil rights laws, not the guidance itself. In the past, the states have bristled at that argument, noting in briefs and oral arguments that the government cited the guidance when threatening to sue school districts that banned transgender students from certain facilities.

Finally, the Justice Department argues that the lower court, under Judge O’Connor, erred by ruling too broadly. O’Connor did so by in applying the injunction nationwide, rather than just within the states that brought the lawsuit, the government lawyers say.

See here and here for the background. As Kerry Eleveld notes, Judge O’Connor cited the fact that this directive did not go through the federal rule-making process in his injunction against it, but other directives, including the health directive that O’Connor also injuncted, did go through that process. As always, it sucks to have to depend on the Fifth Circuit for anything, but there’s not much choice. We’ll see what happens.

Feds to appeal transgender bathroom directive

Good.

RedEquality

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) plans to appeal a Texas judge’s injunctionbarring the Obama administration from implementing guidelines aimed at protecting transgender students against discrimination.

DOJ attorneys announced in court documents Friday that they’ll file formal notice that they’re appealing the injunction to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on or before October 20.

U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor issued the nationwide preliminary injunction in August, in response to a request from the Texas Attorney General’s Office, which is challenging the guidelines on behalf of more than a dozen states.

“DOJ has a number of strong procedural arguments,” said Ken Upton, senior counsel at the LGBT civil rights group Lambda Legal. “It will be interesting to see what the 5th Circuit does.”

[…]

Upton said it could be March or April before the 5th Circuit rules on whether to overturn the injunction. But as soon as the notice of appeal has been filed, the DOJ can request that the injunction be placed on hold while the 5th Circuit considers the case — a request that could be granted within weeks. If the DOJ obtains a stay of the injunction, the Obama administration could resume implementing the guidance.

A request for a stay of the injunction would first have to go to O’Connor, who would be likely to deny it, Upton said. But the DOJ could then request a stay from the 5th Circuit and, if necessary, the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Given the way the injunction binds the government agencies and DOJ, I think there is a good chance they might get a stay,” Upton said.

After O’Connor issued the injunction, DOJ attorneys filed a motion requesting that he clarify its scope. O’Connor heard arguments on the motion September 30 but has not yet ruled. The DOJ had requested that O’Connor do so by October 3.

Upton said he believes Friday’s filing — in which the DOJ announced it plans to file a notice of appeal this week — was intended “to nudge the judge to rule on the clarification motion before their appeal time runs out on October 20.”

“I think you could call it a friendly reminder that if he doesn’t rule by Thursday he’s going to lose jurisdiction of the case and it’s going to the 5th Circuit as is,” Upton said.

See here for the background. On Thursday, they followed through.

Federal officials say they will ask the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn an injunction issued by Fort Worth-based U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor. On Tuesday, O’Connor reaffirmed that his ruling blocking the guidelines applied nationwide, not just in the 13 states that filed suit against the federal government.

O’Connor issued the original ruling in August on the same day millions of Texas children headed back to school, preventing the federal government from enforcing the guidelines as the case went through the courts.

In a 38-page order, O’Connor sided with Texas and 12 other states challenging the federal directive, saying the “status quo” should remain in place nationwide until the court rules on the case, or a federal appeals court provides further guidance, because the administration had not followed proper rule-making procedure in crafting the guidelines.

O’Connor did not, however, rule on the merits of the case, noting “the resolution of this difficult policy decision is not … the subject of this order.”

See here for more on the affirmation that the ruling was intended to be nationwide. It’s always dicey having to put one’s faith in the Fifth Circuit doing the right thing, but this is where we are, and the stakes are high. I suppose even if the Fifth Circuit fails to stop the madness, another lawsuit in a different circuit might generate a conflicting opinion, which would force SCOTUS to get involved sooner than I’m sure it wants to. Trail Blazers and Daily Kos have more.

Jared Woodfill never stops never stopping

Here we go again.

RedEquality

Fifteen months after the U.S. Supreme Court made marriage equality the law of the land, anti-LGBT groups in Texas are still fighting the decision.

Jonathan Saenz, president of the right-wing lobby group Texas Values, and Houston anti-LGBT activist Jared Woodfill announced Tuesday that they’re again asking the Texas Supreme Court to hear their lawsuit seeking to block the same-sex spouses of government workers from receiving health care and other benefits.

[…]

In their motion for a rehearing, Saenz and Woodfill argue that Obergefell should be interpreted narrowly because it violates states’ rights under the 10th Amendment, has no basis in the Constitution and threatens religious freedom.

“It is clear that the current Supreme Court will continue to use its power to advance the ideology of the sexual revolution until there is a change of membership,” Saenz and Woodfill wrote. “It is well known that the homosexual rights movement is not content with the judicial imposition of same-sex marriage in all 50 States; it is also seeking to coerce people of faith who oppose homosexual behavior into participating in same-sex marriage ceremonies.”

Ken Upton, senior counsel for the LGBT civil rights group Lambda Legal, told theObserver that Saenz and Woodfill are “more to be pitied than censored.”

“Obergefell requires the government to treat all married couples the same,” Upton said. “Obergefell doesn’t say that a government employer has to offer any married couple spousal benefits, but if it chooses to do so it must offer the same benefits to all married couples not just the different-sex ones. The government does not get to privilege straight couples over gay couples.”

If the Texas Supreme Court were to take the case and rule in favor of Saenz and Woodfill, the city of Houston could appeal the decision directly to the U.S. Supreme Court, Upton said.

“But let’s be realistic,” he added. “The Texas Supreme Court is not going to grant rehearing. My take is that the Texas Supreme Court is done with marriage. I don’t think there’s much appetite to re-engage that discussion.”

See here for the background. Some things call for logic and reason, some for scorn and derision, and for some all one can do is stare in slack-jawed amazement. That’s all I’ve got on this one.

UT will not push UIL on transgender athletes

Unfortunate.

Despite objections from LGBT advocates, UIL’s longstanding informal policy is set to become official August 1 — when it takes effect as an amendment to the league’s constitution.

The amendment, initially approved by UIL’s Legislative Council last year, wasoverwhelmingly ratified by representatives from member districts in February.

However, LGBT advocates hoped officials at the University of Texas at Austin, which oversees UIL, would veto the amendment since it appears to conflict with the school’s policy against discrimination based on gender identity.

UT-Austin officials confirmed they were reviewing the proposed UIL amendment in April, but university spokesman J.B. Bird indicated this month they have no plans to halt its implementation because underlying legal questions about accommodations for trans students remain unsettled.

Bird noted that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton recently filed suit against the Obama administration over federal guidance saying public schools must allow trans students to use restrooms and other facilities “consistent with their gender identity.”

“I think that’s definitely causing the university to look very carefully at what’s happening around us … since we’re a state agency, and we have the state pursuing these actions ” Bird said.

Paul Castillo, a Dallas-based staff attorney for the LGBT civil rights group Lambda Legal, said that by allowing the UIL amendment to take effect, the university is violating Title IX of the U.S. Education Amendments, which prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally funded education programs.

The U.S. Department of Education has repeatedly said Title IX protects trans students.

“They are violating Title IX by sitting on their hands and waiting for litigation to play itself out,” Castillo said of UT. “They’re putting their own funds at risk, but beyond that, as a university system, they should take a stand.”

See here, here, here, and here for the background. All that is needed here is for UT, and by extension the UIL, the follow the guidelines of the NCAA and International Olympic Committee, and thus not violate Title IX. Clearly, we are going to have to do this the hard way.

Ken Paxton does not approve of transgender bathroom policies

Big surprise, right?

Best mugshot ever

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Tuesday issued an opinion saying the Fort Worth school superintendent who made headlines for formulating guidelines to accommodate transgender students exceeded his authority. Paxton also said that a portion of the guidelines instructing district employees not to out transgender students to their parents might violate state law.

Citing a part of the Texas education code, Paxton wrote that school district boards of trustees — not superintendents — are required to adopt policies while superintendents can only implement those policies “by developing administrative regulations.”

Attorney general opinions are not legally binding, and Paxton’s interpretation has no direct legal impact on the Fort Worth district.

[…]

The district has indicated that the board of trustees was not asked to vote on the policy because it is an “administrative guideline” — a policy that superintendents can implement without official board approval — that stemmed from a non-discrimination policy updated in 2011.

To ensure privacy of students, particularly in cases when the student has not disclosed gender identity status to a parent or guardian, Fort Worth ISD’s guidelines include a protection of privacy for transgender students, directing school personnel to only share information about the student’s gender identity and expression on a “need-to-know basis or as the student directs.”

In his opinion, Paxton indicated that portion of the guidelines violates state law to the extent that they “limit parental access to information about their child and operate to encourage students to withhold information from parents.” Policies dealing with “parental involvement with students’ gender identity choices” must be “addressed” by the school board before they are implemented, he said. He added that the guidelines “relegate parents to a subordinate status.”

In response to Paxton’s opinion, a spokesman for Fort Worth ISD said the district’s legal counsel was reviewing the opinion. “She will advise the superintendent as appropriate,” he added.

Scribner has stood by the guidelines and confirmed he will stay in his post. School board trustees have reiterated that they were in the loop on the policy change, with at least two saying they were surprised the issue had escalated.

Paxton was asked for this opinion by Dan Patrick, whose obsession with bathrooms is well established. I didn’t have a chance to read this opinion – which as we all know does not carry the force of law – when it first came out, but then thankfully John Wright spared me the need.

But nowhere in his nonbinding opinion does Paxton address the question of restroom use, and a closer review of the document reveals Patrick’s “victory” to be mostly hollow.

In the opinion, Paxton wrote that the guidelines violate state law by limiting when school officials can disclose a student’s gender identity to parents. However, FWISD representatives have already stated — in a brief to Paxton’s office cited in a footnote of the opinion — that they plan to revise the parental notification provisions to bring them into line with the Education Code.

David Mack Henderson, president of LGBT advocacy group Fairness Fort Worth, said Tuesday he expects those changes “will render General Paxton’s unenforceable opinion moot.”

Even before Patrick and other Republican lawmakers stormed into Fort Worth in April to call for Scribner’s resignation over the guidelines, school board Trustee Matthew Avila told the Observer that officials were likely to tweak the parental notification provisions, which LGBT advocates agree are on shaky legal ground.

“Generally, parents have a right to access their children’s information and control their upbringing,” Lambda Legal senior counsel Ken Upton said.

FWISD’s brief to Paxton’s office lists exceptions to this rule, including for child abuse investigations, and notes that a 2002 AG’s opinion determined there are “very narrow and unusual circumstances” in which student information can be withheld from parents. FWISD’s brief states that “absent such circumstances, District personnel involve parents in all student matters, including gender identity issues.”

With regard to a second question posed by Patrick, Paxton found that Scribner violated the Education Code by implementing the Transgender Guidelines without a vote from the school board — but only in the context of the parental notification provisions, which account for roughly four paragraphs of the eight-page document.

“While a superintendent is authorized to recommend policies to be adopted by the board, chapter 11 requires that policy decisions, like those addressing parental involvement with students’ gender identity choices, be addressed by the board of trustees prior to the development of any related administrative regulations,” Paxton wrote.

FWISD officials have said Scribner acted within his authority to implement the guidelines because they are an extension of the district’s 2012 nondiscrimination policy, which includes gender identity. The Education Code gives superintendents the authority to “ensure the implementation of the policies created by the board.”

So there’s less to this than meets the eye. Mostly, it’s an invitation for someone who has a kid in FWISD to file a lawsuit, much as Paxton has filed a lawsuit against the feds over their advisory on bathroom access. I firmly believe that in the end forces of darkness and cowardice like Paxton and Patrick will lose, but it will not be quick or easy getting there. There will be setbacks, and people will be hurt along the way. The only message these guys will ever comprehend is at the ballot box. Trail Blazers, Texas Monthly, and the Current have more.

Lawsuit filed against North Carolina anti-equality law

That was fast.

It took only one day for North Carolina’s legislature to pass the country’s most sweeping anti-LGBT bill (HB2), and only four days after that for Lambda Legal and the ACLU of North Carolina to file a lawsuit challenging it.

The suit takes direct aim at the law’s ban on transgender people using bathrooms that match their gender identity by highlighting the experiences of two transgender men, Joaquín Carcaño and Payton Grey McGarry. A third plaintiff, lesbian Angela Gilmore, further challenges the other anti-LGBT provisions in the law. All three are part of the state university system in some capacity.

Carcaño works for UNC-Chapel Hill’s Institute for Global Health and Infection Disease, while McGarry is a full-time student at UNC-Greensboro. Both have undergone hormone therapy and regularly use the men’s restrooms, which they would now be prohibited from doing under HB2. Because they both spend time in buildings with only sex-segregated restrooms, this creates a real obstacle.

“Using the women’s restroom is not a viable option for Mr. Carcaño, just as it would not be a viable option for non-transgender men to be forced to use the women’s restroom,” the suit explains. “Forcing Mr. Carcaño to use the women’s restroom would also cause substantial harm to his mental health and well-being. It would also force him to disclose to others the fact that he is transgender, which itself could lead to violence and harassment.”

Additionally, “The idea of being forced into the women’s restroom causes Mr. Carcaño to experience significant anxiety as he knows that it would be distressing for him and uncomfortable for others. He fears for his safety because of the passage of HB2.” McGarry expresses similar concerns.

As a result, both Carcaño and McGarry would be significantly burdened. Carcaño would have to leave campus to find a local business with a men’s room or find a gender-neutral bathroom in another building, stigmatizing him and interfering with his ability to perform his job duties. Likewise, McGarry would have to find single-use restrooms outside the buildings where he has class, which would “disrupt his ability to attend class and would interfere with his educational opportunities.”

Because North Carolina law does allow transgender people to change their birth certificate if they’ve undergone sex reassignment surgery, there is room under HB2 for transgender people to legally access bathrooms, but that exception does not work for either plaintiff. Such surgeries “may not be medically necessary, advisable, or affordable for any given person,” the suit notes, adding that for McGarry, “surgery is not medically necessary for him.”

As an associate dean at North Carolina Central University, Gilmore and her wife also face consequences. The suit notes that because they have the same first name, they often have to disclose their lesbian relationship. They often travel to Charlotte and will now no longer be protected by the city’s sexual orientation nondiscrimination protections, which HB2 preempts. In regards to the claims that HB2 makes bathrooms safer, the suit also notes, “As a non-transgender woman who always uses the facilities designated for women in both public and private spaces, the passage of H.B. 2 does not make Ms. Gilmore feel safer in these facilities.”

See here for the background. As the story notes, transgender men were the subject that no one discussed during the anti-HERO campaign in Houston last year. It’s good that they’re the focal point of this litigation, and as you can see from my embedded image, taking to social media to get their word out. There’s already been some backlash from the business community, enough to help spook the governor of Georgia into vetoing that state’s anti-equality bill, so with a bit of luck this may not only be the death of this awful law, it may also serve as a disincentive for other states to copy the idea. I hope. Daily Kos has more.

School districts vote to approve new UIL policy restricting transgender athletes

Unfortunate.

Despite strong opposition from LGBT advocates, representatives from Texas school districts have overwhelmingly endorsed a proposal aimed at barring transgender boys and girls from participating in athletics alongside their cisgender peers.

District superintendents and athletic directors voted 409-25 in favor of using birth certificates to determine student athletes’ gender, according to results obtained by the Observer through a request under the Texas Public Information Act.

The legislative council of the University Interscholastic League (UIL), the governing body for Texas high school sports, recommended the amendment in October, and district representatives’ ballots were due this month. According to UIL, if the amendment is approved by Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath, it would take effect in August.

“Because of the very detailed process UIL goes through, it’s usually a pretty clear-cut decision by the time it gets to the commissioner,” said Debbie Ratcliffe, director of media relations for the Texas Education Agency.

LGBT advocates say the amendment runs afoul of the UIL Constitution and Title IXof the U.S. Education Amendments of 1972.

The UIL is part of the University of Texas at Austin, and its constitution prohibits the legislative council or member districts from passing amendments that conflict with UT policy, which bans discrimination based on gender identity.

Both the council and the districts “had a duty to reject the amendment,” said Paul Castillo, a Dallas staff attorney for the LGBT civil rights group Lambda Legal.

Meanwhile, the federal Department of Education has said Title IX’s prohibition against sex-based discrimination applies to trans students, meaning the amendment could expose districts to legal liability, a federal investigation and loss of funds.

“These discriminatory athletic policies, they stigmatize transgender students by singling them out,” Castillo said. “Transgender students already face high rates of physical and verbal harassment at schools.”

See here for the background. It’s just a matter of time before a lawsuit gets filed over this, and I don’t know what the response will be if and when Title IX funds get threatened. I just hope it doesn’t get too messy or expensive when the trouble starts and this thing needs to get fixed. The Trib has more.

Paxton asks to be excused from contempt hearing

He promises he’s been a good boy, so can he please come out of time out now?

Best mugshot ever

Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office says he shouldn’t face a contempt hearing for failing to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling, and no longer needs judicial supervision to ensure he’s doing so.

In an advisory submitted on Monday’s deadline, the AG’s office assured U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia that state officials have implemented new policies for issuing birth and death certificates to same-sex couples, and are processing all pending applications.

[…]

In Monday’s filing, assistant solicitor general Michael Murphy argued the hearing is no longer necessary, and objected to “the unprecedented threat of contempt” in the first place. Quoting Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, Murphy suggested officials simply needed time to adapt after the high court “unsettled … a ‘millennia’-old definition of marriage.”

“Because the state is in full compliance with Obergefell and this court’s injunction and has granted the relief the intervenor sought, the State Defendants believe there is no need for the Court’s scheduled Sept. 10, 2015 contempt hearing or any continued Court supervision of the Department,” Murphy wrote.

Representatives from the AG’s office couldn’t immediately be reached for further comment.

Ken Upton Jr., senior counsel for the LGBT civil rights group Lambda Legal, said Tuesday he feels the threat of contempt was “a proportionate response to the unprecedented level of arrogance, impudence and non-compliance” with the marriage ruling on the part of state officials.

Upton added that while officials were adapting, the gay widower who sought an accurate death certificate, John Stone-Hoskins, was dying himself, and hundreds of same-sex couples were forced to go without accurate birth certificates.

“What they needed was the threat of going to jail and a good civics lesson in how our system works,” Upton said.

See here and here for the background. I don’t think there’s anything I can add to what Ken Upton said. I agree with him 100% – if Paxton hadn’t dragged his feet and just generally done everything he could to deny the reality of Obergfell, then maybe you could argue that a contempt hearing was a bit much. In this case, it was completely fitting and deserved, and it had the desired effect. Next time do your job without having to be coerced and you won’t have these problems.

Paxton will not be able to avoid a different court hearing, however.

Ken Paxton will have to appear in court this week, after the judge handling his securities fraud case denied the attorney general’s request to skip the hearing and send his lawyer instead.

Presiding Judge George Gallagher of Tarrant County on Monday denied Paxton’s request to forgo his Thursday arraignment. According to court filings, Paxton will plead not guilty that day to two first-degree felony charges and one third-degree felony charge of violating state securities laws.

“This is the judge’s decision. Attorney General Paxton has no problem with it and neither do I,” Paxton’s attorney Joe Kendall told the Chronicle on Monday.

OK then. Let’s get this show on the road.

State Health Services department finally amends that death certificate

Good.

Complying with a federal court order, Texas has issued an amended death certificate acknowledging a Conroe man as the husband of a same-sex spouse who had died in January. The men had been married in New Mexico in 2014, when Texas still banned gay marriage.

Shortly after the change was made Thursday night, state lawyers asked U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia to cancel next week’s hearing on whether Attorney General Ken Paxton should be held in contempt of court for his agency’s role in prolonging John Allen Stone-Hoskins’ fight to be listed as the husband on his spouse’s death certificate.

Garcia ordered the document to be changed Wednesday, saying the state’s refusal to amend the death certificate violated his permanent injunction, issued in July, that barred state officials from enforcing Texas laws on gay marriage, including a ban on recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states.

Garcia issued the injunction shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned all state bans on gay marriage.

In the same order Wednesday, Garcia directed Paxton and Kirk Cole, interim commissioner of the Department of State Health Services, to appear in his San Antonio courtroom at 10 a.m. Wednesday to determine if they should be held in contempt of court for violating his injunction.

[…]

In a brief filed in Garcia’s court late Thursday, lawyers for the attorney general’s office urged the judge to cancel next week’s hearing, arguing that it would be inappropriate to hold Paxton and Cole in contempt of court.

A contempt finding would require clear proof that Paxton and Cole violated “a definite and specific order of the court,” the brief said. Garcia’s injunction, however, related to the right of same-sex couples to marry, not how a Texas agency should follow state regulations on issuing death certificates, the brief said.

“Whether a newly-recognized federal constitutional right is retroactive is a complex, fact-specific inquiry that is resolved in subsequent legal proceedings,” the brief said.

Requiring Paxton to appear at a contempt hearing is “particularly striking,” the brief said, because he was merely doing his job by providing legal advice to Cole’s agency.

“The attorney general has not refused to amend any death certificate,” the brief said. “There is absolutely no authority for the proposition that a constitutional officer of a state may be held in contempt for good-faith representation of a client in discharging his constitutional duty.”

Garcia’s decision to cancel Wednesday’s hearing could be influenced by an Austin man’s request to attend the hearing as an interested party. William Wallace’s attempts to amend his late husband’s death certificate for the past 1½ months also was rejected by state officials, his lawyer said.

See here for the background. Personally, I think Judge Garcia should go ahead and have the hearing. Paxton may have just been advising DSHS, but he was clearly giving them bad advice that gave them a way to deny John Stone-Hopkins’ rights, at a time when he didn’t have much time left to fight for them. He did the same thing with County Clerks after the Obergfell ruling, and while it wasn’t an outright call for resistance and in the end had little practical effect, the point is that he clearly has shown a lot of disrespect for the court’s ruling. I think he should have to explain himself in front of the judge, if only to ensure he doesn’t ever do this again.

And here’s why that lesson needs to be applied.

Ken Upton Jr., senior counsel for the LGBT civil rights group Lambda Legal, wrote in a letter to U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia today that the Department of State Health Services continues to deny accurate birth certificates to the children of same-sex couples.

Upton and his clients, Susan Leigh Jorgensen and Robin Bass Jorgensen, plan to attend a hearing next week on a contempt motion against Paxton and Kirk Cole, the interim health department commissioner, over their refusal to issue an amended death certificate to John Stone-Hoskins listing him as the husband of James Stone-Hoskins. James Stone-Hoskins died in January after the couple married in New Mexico last year.

On Wednesday, Garcia ordered Cole to issue an amended death certificate to Stone-Hoskins, who has terminal cancer, and set a hearing for next Wednesday in San Antonio. Stone-Hoskins received the amended death certificate Thursday.

“While it appears the defendants have issued the specific corrected death certificate you ordered, they are by no means complying with the permanent injunction you entered against them in this matter,” Upton wrote in his letter to Garcia, adding that the state health agency has “steadfastly refused” to do so.

Upton said his clients, whose second child was born Aug. 4, were most recently denied an accurate birth certificate Aug. 5. Upton believes the high court’s June 26 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, along with a subsequent order from Garcia enjoining state officials from enforcing Texas’ same-sex marriage ban, require that the state allow gay couples to have both names on birth certificates.

Also writing a letter to Garcia on Friday was Elizabeth Brenner, an attorney for William Kenneth Wallace, who’s been denied a death certificate listing him as his late husband’s spouse. According to Brenner’s letter, Wallace has gone to the health department’s vital statistics office numerous times in person over the last month and a half, but each time he was turned away — most recently on July 27.

Brenner’s letter requests permission to appear at the contempt hearing as an interested party.

As you may recall, there was some motion in the Lege to fix birth certificates for children of same-sex couples, but it didn’t make it through. I’d rather we had a legislative fix for this than a judicial one, but what matters is getting it fixed. We’ll see what Judge Garcia thinks of all this. The Dallas Voice has more.

There’s more to complying with SCOTUS than issuing marriage licenses

Looks like Ken Paxton may get to learn that the hard way.

A federal judge ruled Wednesday that Texas must recognize the same-sex marriage of a Conroe resident by naming him as the surviving spouse on his late husband’s death certificate.

And U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia also ordered Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Kirk Cole, interim commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, to appear in court Aug. 12 to determine whether they should be held in contempt for refusing to change the death certificate. This is the latest legal challenge for Paxton, who was recently indicted on three felony securities fraud charges.

The judge’s emergency order comes after a lawyer for John Stone-Hoskins, the surviving spouse, sued the state in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing same-sex marriage, arguing Texas should revise the death certificate. The lawsuit also asked the court to name Texas officials including Paxton and Cole in contempt.

John Stone-Hoskins and James Stone-Hoskins married in New Mexico last year on the 10th anniversary of their first date. James Stone-Hoskins, 32, died in January. But John Stone-Hoskins was not listed on his husband’s death certificate, because at the time, Texas’ ban on same-sex marriages was still in place. Instead, James Stone-Hoskins was listed as single.

The order by Garcia of the District Court for the Western District of Texas compels the state health department to amend the death certificate. This case is particularly urgent, said John Stone-Hoskins’ lawyer, Neel Lane, a partner at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, because his 37-year-old client has been diagnosed with terminal cancer.

This Observer story from Tuesday gives some background. This story from Wednesday fills in some details.

“This is an effort to get political gain by persecuting gays and lesbians in the state of Texas,” Lane told the Observer shortly after filing the motion. “There’s just no other way to read what they’re doing.”

Stone-Hoskins said he was diagnosed with cancer six weeks after his husband’s death, and doctors estimate he has 45 to 60 days to live. He began requesting an updated death certificate immediately after the high court’s ruling, submitting more than 20 pages of documentation.

State officials initially told him they were still reviewing the request, but this week they said they wouldn’t issue an updated death certificate unless a court ordered them to do so, Lane and Stone-Hoskins said.

“After the Supreme Court decision came down, I should have inherited his estate,” Stone-Hoskins said. “Instead, not only is James’ estate — because he left no will before he died — at issue, but should I pass, I can’t even plan my own estate at this time.”

Paxton’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Lane said the state will be on the hook for Stone-Hoskins attorneys’ fees, but he’s unsure whether officials will also be liable for damages.

“The court can consider at its discretion any factors in awarding an award of contempt, but really what we want to do, at least from my perspective, is to pave the way for others so they don’t have to go to court,” Lane said.

Yeah, that whole “you don’t have to obey SCOTUS if your conscience says so but you could pay for it if so” opinion sure is hitting home about now, I’d say. We’ll see if the DSHS complies, and what happens with Paxton and Cole next week. I wonder if it would be wise for Paxton to pack a toothbrush with him when he goes to court. At least he’s already got a mug shot they can use if he needs to be booked. The Statesman has more.

Woodfill is still pursuing his anti-same-sex benefits lawsuit

From the inbox and the febrile mind of Jared Woodfill:

RedEquality

Last year Houston Judge Lisa Millard granted a temporary injunction and ordered Houston Mayor Annise Parker and the City of Houston to immediately stop recognizing same-sex ‘marriages’ and stop providing benefits to the same-sex couples married in other states. Judge Millard stated, “This court does not legislate from the bench” and ordered the injunction to stay in place until a trial date of December 2015. I filed the lawsuit on behalf of Larry Hicks and Pastor Jack Pidgeon. The City of Houston has appealed Judge Millard’s opinion. Mayor Parker is arguing that the United States Supreme Court’s recent decision regarding same-sex marriage justifies her unilateral decision to use your tax dollars to fund same-sex benefits. I believe the City of Houston and Mayor Parker are wrong. The recent marriage decisions addressed a new right for same-sex marriage, but did not establish an entitlement for financial support at taxpayer expense. Consistent with the same dichotomy that resulted in the abortion decisions, which established an individual right to abortion but an equally strong right by the States to deny public funding for abortion. Accordingly, we have responded to Mayor Parker’s unlawful use of your tax dollars and filed a responsive brief. The brief can be accessed by clicking here. I am hopeful that the Houston Fourteenth Court of Appeals, like Judge Millard, will once again make it clear that Mayor Parker’s executive actions to force the funding of same-sex benefits on the people of Houston are illegal. It is time for Mayor Parker to stop wasting tax dollars on issues that have already been resolved by Texas voters and Texas state courts. I will keep you posted on the progress of this litigation.

Read Judge Millard’s order here.

To review the situation: In November of 2013, after SCOTUS knocked down the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), Mayor Parker issued an executive order declaring that spousal benefits for city employees extended to legally married (i.e., in other states) same-sex spouses. This was both in response to the deletion of DOMA and in recognition of the fact that the 2001 charter amendment limited benefits to “employees, their legal spouses and dependent children”. Pidgeon and Hicks, abetted by Woodfill, then filed a lawsuit challenging this, and got an initial injunction against it from Family Court Judge Lisa Millard. A second lawsuit was then filed by three City employees who would have benefited from Mayor Parker’s order, to force the action that she took. Both suits were then moved to federal court in December, where Judge Lee Rosenthal dropped the injunction against the city. The second plaintiffs, represented by Lambda Legal, moved to combine the two suits, which were eventually moved back to state court last August. Woodfill and pals filed another lawsuit in state court in November; I have no idea what happened to that one.

As far as I know, that was the last update until after the Obergfell decision, at which time the Lambda Legal lawsuit was formally dismissed for being moot. I would have assumed the same would have happened to the Pidgeon/Hicks lawsuit, but I have not seen anything to confirm or deny that. As for this current action, I have no idea what legal basis Woodfill thinks he has to draw a distinction between same-sex marriage and opposite-sex marriage – silly me, I thought the SCOTUS ruling was pretty clear on that point – but after what we’ve seen in the past few weeks, who knows what a Texas court might do. Any legal types out there who can explain any or all of this better than I can, by all means please do. I’ll keep my eyes open for any further developments.

Lawsuit for same sex benefits for state employees filed

It’s all about being proactive.

RedEquality

Sensing that state officials will be reluctant to comply with a potential U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage, an LGBT civil rights group filed a federal lawsuit Thursday seeking to force Texas to provide equal benefits to the same-sex spouses of public employees.

Lambda Legal filed the suit on behalf of Deborah Leliaert and Paula Woolworth against the board and executive director of the Employee Retirement System of Texas, in U.S. district court in Austin.

Leliaert and Woolworth, who live in Denton County and have been together 14 years, were married in California in 2008. Leliaert serves as vice president for university relations and planning at the University of North Texas.

After Woolworth retired, Leliaert sought to enroll her in spousal insurance benefits at UNT in 2014, but was denied by ERS, which told her that “spouse and participant cannot have the same gender.” The lawsuit alleges Texas’ same-sex marriage bans violate the guarantees of due process and equal protection under the U.S. Constitution. But Lambda Legal senior counsel Ken Upton Jr. indicated that with the high court expected to decide that issue later this month, the suit is designed to serve as an enforcement action.

“Many officials across the state, in various capacities, have signaled they will be in no hurry to comply with the [Supreme Court] decision,” Upton said, adding that some will undoubtedly look to Attorney General Ken Paxton for guidance. “A pending lawsuit against the board of trustees and the executive director of the ERS will give us the ability to get relief for all the public employees and their dependents immediately, instead of waiting for the AG.”

Upton said in addition to state employees, the lawsuit could bring equal benefits to public school teachers, since the Teacher Retirement System of Texas operates under the same laws.

“We asked, if we could bring one enforcement action that would have the greatest effect, what would it look like?” Upton said. “Texas is a large state. Denying employment benefits to public employees is the biggest bang for the buck we could think of in one lawsuit.”

Click the link to see a copy of the lawsuit. Waiting for Paxton to take any action is clearly a loser’s game, as Lone Star Q documents.

In a press release marking the signing of the so-called “Pastor Protection Act,” Paxton said the bill—which merely reaffirms existing protections under state and federal law—is “not enough.”

“We now have much more work to do to ensure that all Texans can practice their faith and, among other things, recognize traditional marriage without being punished, harassed or discriminated against for their beliefs,” Paxton wrote. “What about the wedding photographer, the event planner, the caterer, the bed and breakfast owner, cake baker or any other Texas small business owner who is threatened or sued for carrying out their work according to their faith? What about the religiously-affiliated adoption agency that believes it should only place a child in a home with traditional marriage? What about the private school that teaches traditional marriage but is told it is an ‘issue’? Will that school lose its 501c3 tax-exempt status, as was suggested by the U.S. Solicitor General while arguing against traditional marriage in the Supreme Court?”

I’m not surprised by any of this. I suspect more than one lawsuit – probably a lot more than one – will be needed, but this is as good a place as any to start.

What do we expect from the Fifth Circuit and SCOTUS on same sex marriage?

Some people are very optimistic.

RedEquality

Same-sex marriage will arrive in Texas before Easter, according to an attorney for two couples who are challenging the state’s marriage bans in federal court.

Daniel McNeel Lane Jr., of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in San Antonio, made the prediction as he prepared for oral arguments in the case at the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans on Friday.

[…]

“I don’t think it will be stayed, certainly not by the Supreme Court, I don’t think it will be reviewed by the Supreme Court, and I think we’ll have marriage equality by Easter,” Lane told the Observer on Friday. “That’s my prediction. … That’s my strong feeling.”

On the same day as oral arguments at the 5th Circuit, the U.S. Supreme Court will meet to decide whether to hear same-sex marriage cases from four other states, which could pave the way for a nationwide ruling in favor of marriage equality as early as June. As of Tuesday, when same-sex marriage takes effect in Florida, Texas will be one of only 14 states where it’s still prohibited.

“Whatever the Supreme Court does, we will still make our arguments, the 5th Circuit is likely still to rule, and let the chips fall where they may. I’m sure that’s what our panel’s view will be,” Lane said. “The two will not be connected, and this court knows that if it affirms Judge Garcia, and finds that residents of this state have a right to marry the person they love, regardless of gender … it’s likely that that freedom, that equality, that justice, will come very swiftly, and the tide of that equality will never be turned back.”

Kenneth D. Upton Jr., senior counsel for the LGBT civil rights group Lambda Legal, which is handling the Louisiana marriage case, said marriage equality in the 5th Circuit before Easter is “certainly one possibility.” But Upton added, “There are a couple of things that could throw a wrench in that prediction.”

Upton said if the 5th Circuit panel rules in favor of marriage equality, it’s possible the state of Texas would appeal the decision to the 15-member court en banc—which would be “a more hostile setting.”

“I don’t think the panel would stay it, but if the 5th Circuit grants rehearing before the entire court, the panel decision is automatically vacated,” Upton said. “So, I suspect Abbott’s office would play that card since they have nothing to lose.”

Upton said the 5th Circuit panel could also simply decide to wait for the high court.

“If they [Supreme Court justices] grant any petitions, and because they aren’t staying cases anymore, I think any subsequent court of appeals case will be held to see what the ultimate answer is,” he said.

Lambda Legal has asked the high court to review the Louisiana case even though the 5th Circuit hasn’t decided it yet—a type of request that’s rarely granted but that will also be considered Friday. Upton said whether the Supreme Court agrees to hear the Louisiana case, one of the other four cases or some combination, he thinks Friday’s proceedings in New Orleans will be upstaged by what happens in Washington.

“The arguments in the 5th [Circuit] will not be the real story that day,” he said. “It will be [the Supreme Court]. I feel pretty sure they will grant something that day.”

That’s not all the Supreme Court is being asked to do.

Idaho’s governor and attorney general are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to make same-same marriage illegal in the state, nearly four months after a federal appeals court affirmed that it was unconstitutional for Idaho to prohibit same-sex couples from getting married.

Gov. Butch Otter’s petition, filed Tuesday, said the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals was wrong when it maintained that banning same-sex marriage violates couple’s equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment. Otter asked the Supreme Court to take up the issue once and for all, saying the state’s ban on same-sex marriage was not about discrimination against gay couples — rather, it was about the children.

“[Idaho’s] view of marriage is biologically based and primarily child-centered,” the petition reads. “And it holds that the principal (though not exclusive) purpose of marriage is to unite a child to his or her biological mother and father whenever possible, and when not possible, to a mother and father.”

“The time has come for this court to resolve a question of critical importance to the States, their citizens and especially their children: Whether the federal Constitution prohibits a State from maintaining the traditional understanding and definition of marriage as between a man and a woman,” the petition reads.

SCOTUS will be busy today.

On Friday, Supreme Court justices will meet in private to consider whether to act on cases that could provide a nationwide answer on whether same-sex marriages must be allowed. On the same day, a federal appeals court will consider bans in Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana.

“It’s an incredible confluence of events,” said Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights. “It’s the culmination of many years of work.”

[…]

The justices this week will be considering petitions from five states where lower-court judges, bucking a nationwide trend, upheld laws banning same-sex marriage and barring the recognition of such unions performed in states where they are legal.

In all but one case, even the winning side has asked the Supreme Court to accept the cases and settle the issue during its current term, which will conclude at the end of June.

Without explanation, the justices in October passed up that chance. But that was before a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in Cincinnati ruled that there was no constitutional right to marriage that must be extended to gay couples and that states were free to define marriage as they wished.

Because four other regional appeals courts have ruled the other way, “the court is more likely to decide the issue now than when it denied review last October,” Kyle Duncan, a Washington lawyer defending Louisiana’s bans, said in an e-mail.

The Supreme Court does not have to announce its decision on the petitions Friday. But generally the justices must accept a case by the end of January in order to hold oral arguments and rule by June.

If they do not, same-sex marriages will probably remain legal in the majority of states through 2015 and banned in the rest.

Well, that ought to settle the “legal by Easter” matter quickly. I feel optimistic, but boy howdy are the stakes high. And as we’ve seen in the Legislature, there are still plenty of avenues available at this time for the forces of bigotry to roll back progress. We’ll see what happens. Hair Balls has more.

Republicans will push pro-discrimination bills

I have three things to say about this.

RedEquality

Two days after the Plano City Council approved an ordinance prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people, a Texas legislator filed a proposed constitutional amendment that would limit the ability of cities to enforce such laws.

On Wednesday, Rep. Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) filed House Joint Resolution 55, which is similar but not identical to Senate Joint Resolution 10, filed last month by Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels).

Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano), one of several lawmakers who sent a letter to the Plano City Council opposing the nondiscrimination ordinance, also announced on Twitter Tuesday that he’s drafting a bill “to protect Texas business owners from unconstitutional infringements on their religious liberty.” As of Thursday morning, Leach’s bill hadn’t been filed, and he didn’t return a phone call seeking comment.

Nevertheless, a month before the session begins, the flurry of legislation suggests that, thanks in part to the legalization of same-sex marriage across much of the nation, conservatives will challenge gays rights in the name of religious freedom in the 84th Texas Legislature.

The resolutions from Campbell and Villalba would amend the Texas Constitution to state that government “may not burden” someone’s “sincerely held religious belief” unless there is a “compelling governmental interest” and it is the “least restrictive means of furthering that interest.”

Experts say such an amendment would effectively prevent cities that have passed LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances from enforcing them. In addition to Plano, those cities include Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio.

That’s because business owners could claim exemptions from the ordinances if they have sincerely held religious beliefs—such as opposition to same-sex marriage—making it legal for them to fire employees for being gay or refuse service to LGBT customers.

“It blows a hole in your nondiscrimination protections if people can ignore them for religious reasons,” said Jenny Pizer, senior counsel at the LGBT civil rights group Lambda Legal.

But Pizer and others said an even bigger problem could be the amendments’ unintended consequences.

Daniel Williams, legislative specialist for Equality Texas, said in addition to the First Amendment, the state already has a statute that provides strong protections for religious freedom—known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA. But Williams said the proposed constitutional amendments would supplant RFRA and go further, overriding exceptions in the statute for things like zoning regulations and civil rights laws.

[…]

Williams noted that similar resolutions from Campbell have failed in previous sessions. Amending the state Constitution requires two-thirds support in both chambers as well as a majority public vote.

“That’s a very high bar, and the Legislature’s a deliberative body,” Williams said.

But Williams said the key to defeating the legislation this go-round will be economic arguments.

“This would have a detrimental affect on businesses that are looking to relocate to Texas,” he said. “Businesses that want to relocate to Texas will think that their LGBT employees and the family members of their LGBT employees are not going to be welcome.”

1. Between equality ordinances, plastic bag bans, payday lender regulations, and anti-fracking measures, the obsession that Republican legislators may have this session with nullifying municipal laws may overtake their obsession with nullifying federal laws. I continue to be perplexed by this obsession.

2. We are all clear that these “freedom to discriminate” bills are, intentionally or not, also about the freedom to discriminate against Jews or blacks or whoever else you don’t like, right? I mean, every time they get pinned down on it, proponents of such bills admit as much. I don’t suppose it has ever occurred to the Donna Campbells of the world that one of these days they themselves could be on the receiving end of such treatment, if someone else’s sincerely held religious beliefs hold that antipathy towards LGBT folks is an abomination before God. I’m just saying.

3. Assuming Speaker Straus maintains the tradition of not voting, the magic number is fifty, as in fifty votes in the House are needed to prevent any of these travesties from making it to your 2015 ballot. There are 52 Democrats in the House, plus one officially LGBT-approved Republican, so there are three votes to spare, assuming no other Republicans can be persuaded to vote against these. We know that there are four current House Dems that voted for the anti-gay marriage amendment of 2005. One of them, Rep. Richard Raymond, has since stated his support for marriage equality. Another, Rep. Ryan Guillen, may be persuadable. The current position of the others, Reps. Joe Pickett and Tracy King, are unknown. Barring any absences or scheduling shenanigans, we can handle three defections without needing to get another R on board. This is the key.

(Yes, eleven votes in the Senate can also stop the madness. Unfortunately, one of those votes belongs to Eddie Lucio. I’d rather take my chances in the House.)

Unfair Park and Hair Balls have more.