Arkansas law banning gender affirming care ruled unconstitutional

This is a big deal.

A federal judge struck down Arkansas’ first-in-the-nation ban on gender-affirming care for children as unconstitutional Tuesday, the first ruling to overturn such a prohibition as a growing number of Republican-led states adopt similar restrictions.

U.S. District Judge Jay Moody issued a permanent injunction against the Arkansas law, which would have prohibited doctors from providing gender-affirming hormone treatment, puberty blockers or surgery to anyone under 18.

Arkansas’ law, which Moody temporarily blocked in 2021, also would have prohibited doctors from referring patients elsewhere for such care.

In his order, Moody ruled that the prohibition violated the due process and equal protection rights of transgender youth and families. He said the law also violated the First Amendment rights of medical providers by prohibiting them from referring patients elsewhere.

“Rather than protecting children or safeguarding medical ethics, the evidence showed that the prohibited medical care improves the mental health and well-being of patients and that, by prohibiting it, the state undermined the interests it claims to be advancing,” Moody wrote in his ruling.

Republican lawmakers in Arkansas enacted the ban in 2021, overriding a veto by former GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson. Hutchinson, who left office in January, said the law went too far by cutting off treatments for children currently receiving such care.

The ruling affects only the Arkansas ban but may carry implications for the fates of similar prohibitions, or discourage attempts to enact them, in other states.

This is a big deal because it’s a final ruling, not a temporary restraining order. Law Dork goes into some detail.

Arkansas’s 2021 law banning gender-affirming medical care for minors is unconstitutional, the federal judge who has been overseeing the challenge to the law ruled on Tuesday, finding in favor of the plaintiffs and against the state “on all claims.”

Although there have been three other federal court rulings granting preliminary injunctions against such bans (in Alabama, Florida, and Indiana), in addition to earlier rulings as to the Arkansas law, such decisions are — as they suggest — preliminary.

Tuesday’s ruling, though, is the first final judgment from a trial court in a challenge to such a ban. It followed a two-week trial in a case that has traveled a long path — one that is still not over.

The law “is unconstitutional,” U.S. District Judge James Moody Jr. stated in the opening paragraph of his 80-page ruling in the case, siding with the plaintiffs on equal protection, due process, and First Amendment grounds.

While a final trial court ruling in the case, Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders has already announced that the state will appeal.

While Moody’s ultimate ruling in the case and legal conclusions obviously matter, his findings of fact issued Tuesday could be the most important aspect of his decision. Because trial judges are able to review the evidence and are closest to the case at trial, their findings of fact are accepted on appeal unless the appeals court finds that the those findings constitute a “clear error,” a deferential standard.

See here and here for a bit of background, and read the rest of Law Dork’s post for a deeper dive into the ruling. I am confident there will be a lawsuit filed in Texas once its anti-gender affirming care law takes effect. It’s not hard to imagine a district court judge issuing a restraining order and the Fifth Circuit reversing it; it’s also not hard to imagine a similar verdict and an overturn by the Fifth Circuit. All this to say that one way or another this matter will make its way to SCOTUS. I am hopeful that the record will be heavily in favor of the plaintiffs by then, though whether or not that will matter remains to be seen. But in the short term, this is what we’re likely to see.

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