Attempts by the Biden administration to expand the definition of sex discrimination to include sexual orientation and gender identity have been blocked for now. The administration is threatening to withhold funding for school food programs from states unless they allow biological boys on girls sports among other policies.
The court ruling comes as more than 20 Republican attorneys general filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the Biden administration over a Department of Agriculture school meal program that requires the schools follow new guidelines on gender or not be funded. Republicans say President Biden is putting the health of children at risk by leveraging providing food to them with following transgender equity guidelines.
Judge Charles Atchley of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee issued an order in the case of the State of Tennessee v. United States Department of Education. The ruling grants the request of 20 states to issue a preliminary injunction preventing the enforcement of guidelines drafted by federal government agencies as litigation continues.
In May, the USDA announced that it would include discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity as a violation of Title IX, the sweeping 1972 law that guarantees equity between the sexes in “any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
The agency warned that states and schools that receive federal funds, which include the national school lunch program overseen by the USDA, have agreed to follow civil rights laws. Although the agency says it wants voluntary compliance, it also has promised to refer violations to the Department of Justice. It is not clear whether the federal government would hold back funding for school meal programs as part of its enforcement.
Tennessee and 19 other states, including Missouri, filed the lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education, Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, EEOC Chair Charlotte Burrows, the U.S. Department of Justice, Attorney General Merrick Garland and Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Kristen Clarke. The guidance in question expands the definition of discrimination based on sex to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
At issue in the lawsuit was a letter to educators announcing the expanded definition of sex discrimination under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. An accompanying fact sheet provides examples of actions that the Department of Education would consider discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. A technical assistance document compiled by the EEOC outlines “Protections Against Employment Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity.”
The judge determined that “Defendants’ guidance documents are legislative rules and that the guidance is invalid because Defendants failed to comply with the required notice and comment procedures under the [Administrative Procedure Act].” The judge indicated that the ruling only prevents federal officials from enforcing the guidance against the plaintiffs, meaning that it can continue to be enforced in the 30 states that were not part of the lawsuit.
“This preliminary injunction shall remain in effect pending the final resolution of this matter or until further orders from this Court, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit or the Supreme Court of the United States,” he said.
–Alan Goforth | Metro Voice