Federal Court Warns Idaho Against Disobedience of Injunction Barring Anti-Transgender Discrimination

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June 1, 2020

The federal district court in Idaho today warned Idaho state officials that its permanent injunction issued in 2018 continues to apply and bars them from categorically preventing transgender people born in Idaho from correcting the gender markers on their birth certificates to match their gender identity. 

While the court did not address whether House Bill 509 requires the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (IDHW) to reinstate such a ban, it made clear that, to the extent state officials took steps to reinstate such a ban, even if directed by state law, they would be in violation of the federal injunction.

“The court has confirmed that its injunction continues to apply, in full force and effect, and it has now expressly cautioned that HB 509 does not whatsoever absolve state officials from their obligation to comply with the federal injunction. Indeed, the court took pains to say that officials must not engage in ‘experimentation with disobedience of the law,’” said Lambda Legal Counsel Peter Renn.  

“Like obeying speed limits and paying your taxes, Idaho state officials are not exempt from the duty to follow a court order. Here, the court’s 2018 order plainly instructed state officials not to block transgender people from accessing accurate identity documents. The court has now confirmed that what was discriminatory in 2018 remains discriminatory today.”

The court order states that: “The Injunction is not constrained to any particular policy, rule, or statute as Defendants argue. The plain terms and clear objective of the Injunction permanently prohibit IDHW from implementing or enforcing any policy, rule, or the like that automatically rejects applications from transgender people to change the sex listed on their birth certificates.”

It thus warns: “HB 509 does not absolve IDHW from accepting, considering, and processing applications from individuals, transgender or otherwise, seeking to change the sex listed on their birth certificate to match their gender identity. To conclude otherwise invites ‘experimentation with disobedience of the law.’”

Although HB 509 takes effect on July 1, 2020, the court also clarified that “[t]he Injunction is permanent and applies now and on July 1, 2020.”

“It is remarkable that we were even back in court on this issue, as a direct result of efforts by the Idaho legislature and Governor Little to turn back the clock on equality. To force this law through, even as the country grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, is even more inexcusable,” Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Kara Ingelhart added.

“We will continue to protect against efforts to roll back the rights of transgender people born in Idaho. Accurate identity documents are not only necessary to navigate everyday life, they are also critical to protecting transgender people from harassment and even violence, which is why 47 states have rejected the archaic policy that some seek to restore.”

Lambda Legal filed the original lawsuit, F.V. v. Armstrong (now F.V. v. Jeppesen), in 2017. The lawsuit argued that denying transgender people born in Idaho the ability to obtain accurate birth certificates discriminates against them and invades their privacy, liberty, and freedom from compelled speech under U.S. Constitution. For example, after one plaintiff, who is a transgender woman, displayed her birth certificate at a social security office, she was subjected to verbal harassment for being transgender.

In March 2018, the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho ruled that the government unconstitutionally discriminated against transgender people, and it issued a permanent injunction against state officials.

According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, almost one-third of transgender individuals who showed an identity document with a name or gender marker that conflicted with their perceived gender were harassed, denied benefits or services, discriminated against, or assaulted. Transgender individuals also are disproportionately targeted for hate crimes.

Forty-seven other states currently provide a process for transgender people to change the gender marker on their birth certificates.

Handling the case on behalf of Lambda Legal are Peter Renn, Kara Ingelhart, and Nora Huppert.  They are joined by co-counsel Monica G. Cockerille of Cockerille Law Office in Boise, Idaho.