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Supreme Court Sends Transgender Case Back to Lower Court Amid Trump Administration’s Policy Change

The Supreme Court on Monday sent a case involving a transgender high school student back to a lower court, a temporary setback for the student.

Gavin Grimm attends as National Geographic hosts the world premiere screening of "Gender Revolution: A Journey With Katie Couric" on Feb. 2, 2017, in New York City.  (Credit: Brad Barket/Getty Images for National Geographic)

Gavin Grimm attends as National Geographic hosts the world premiere screening of “Gender Revolution: A Journey With Katie Couric” on Feb. 2, 2017, in New York City. (Credit: Brad Barket/Getty Images for National Geographic)

Monday’s announcement vacates a lower court’s decision in the case of Gavin Grimm, a Virginia student who is seeking to use school bathrooms that align with his gender identity. Monday’s decision means the case will go back to a court of appeals and likely removes the possibility that the Supreme Court will hear it this term.

The decision comes in the wake of a change in policy by the Trump administration, which last month revoked Obama-era guidance on protections for transgender students in public schools.

The lower court will now have to answer the bigger — and far more important — question of whether federal law and not just Executive Branch interpretations of it treat discrimination on the basis of gender identity as tantamount to sex discrimination. The Supreme Court’s announcement has the effect of letting a lower court answer that question first.

“While we’re disappointed that the Supreme Court will not be hearing Gavin’s case this term, the overwhelming level of support shown for Gavin and trans students by people across the country throughout this process shows that the American people have already moved in the right direction and that the rights of trans people cannot be ignored,” said Joshua Block, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney representing Grimm. “This is a detour, not the end of the road, and we’ll continue to fight for Gavin and other transgender people to ensure that they are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.”

Last April, a federal appeals court ruled in favor of Grimm, who fought a school board policy that denied him access to the boys’ bathroom but allowed him the use of recently constructed single-stall unisex restrooms.

When siding with Grimm and against the school district, the appeals court deferred to the Obama administration’s interpretation of Title IX.

The Gloucester County School Board, which had appealed the case, said it looked “forward to explaining why its common sense restroom and locker room policy is legal under the Constitution and federal law.”

Activists on both sides of the issue quickly weighed in on the ruling.

“It only makes sense for the Supreme Court to vacate the 4th Circuit’s earlier decision and instruct it to reconsider this case. The 4th Circuit should affirm the plain meaning of Title IX, which protects boys’ and girls’ privacy in locker rooms, showers, and restrooms,” Alliance Defending Freedom legal counsel Kerri Kupec said in a statement. “School officials should be free to protect their students’ privacy, safety, and dignity without federal government interference.”

An LGBT-rights group, however, said “we remain confident” that Grimm will prevail.

“The Supreme Court has missed an opportunity to end the painful discrimination currently faced by tens of thousands of transgender students nationwide,” Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network Executive Director Eliza Byard said. “In the meantime trans students are left without clear protections from our Federal government while the case is reheard.”