Victory! Court Confirms Idaho's Anti-Transgender Birth Certificate Law Violates Ruling

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August 7, 2020

The federal district court in Idaho today slapped down an effort by the Idaho legislature and Idaho Gov. Brad Little to resuscitate a ban preventing transgender people born in Idaho from changing the gender marker on their birth certificates to match their gender identity. In so doing, the judge held that Idaho state officials’ enforcement of House Bill 509 is currently in violation of the court’s permanent injunction issued in 2018 that declared any such ban unconstitutional and blocked its enforcement.

“It is astonishing that the Idaho legislature and Gov. Little plowed forward with resuscitating this dangerous and archaic ban in direct defiance of multiple court orders that repeatedly ordered the government to stop discriminating against transgender people and placing them in harm’s way,” said Nora Huppert, a Renberg Fellow and attorney with Lambda Legal. “The court could not have been clearer: What was discriminatory in 2018 remains discriminatory today. Idaho officials may not block transgender people from obtaining identity documents that reflect who they are.  This law seeks to deny the very existence of transgender people by stripping them of their identity.”

The ruling comes on the heels of an earlier ruling by the court on June 1, 2020, in which it warned Idaho state officials that the court’s permanent injunction continued to apply to HB 509, and cautioned them against “experimentation with disobedience of the law.”  Despite that warning, Idaho state officials pushed forward with enforcement of HB 509 on its effective date of July 1, 2020, prompting another round of litigation that resulted in today’s ruling.

“When you treat the federal court like a doormat, there are going to be consequences,” Huppert added. “The rule of law comes to a grinding halt if government officials can act as if they are above the law that the rest of us are expected to follow.”

From the ruling: "The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare’s enforcement of HB 509 “denies transgender individuals a meaningful process for changing the sex listed on their birth certificate to reflect their gender identity. This violates the Injunction’s directive prohibiting IDHW from categorically rejecting applications from transgender people to change the sex listed on their birth certificates and its mandate that IDHW allow such applications."

Lambda Legal filed the original lawsuit, F.V. v. Barron, 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 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.

On March 30, 2020, Idaho Gov. Brad Little signed into law HB 509, which reinstated the ban on providing accurate birth certificates to transgender people born in Idaho, in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic. In response, Lambda Legal filed motions asking the U.S. District Court to confirm that its earlier ruling already barred enforcement of the new law. The court did so today.

According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, almost one-third of transgender people 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 people also are disproportionately targeted for hate crimes.  At least forty-six other states currently provide a process for transgender people to change the gender marker on their birth certificates.

Read about birth certificate policies across the United States here.

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, and the law firm of Covington & Burling LLP.