(CN) – The Justice Department and its new leader Jeff Sessions brought an anticlimactic end Thursday to a battle over transgender rights, dismissing an appeal that sought to enforce an Obama-era directive for public schools to honor students’ gender identities.
Sessions telegraphed the move last week when he persuaded President Donald Trump to rescind the May 2016 directive, which ordered all public schools to let transgender students into bathrooms and locker rooms of their choice, with threats to cut the federal education funding of districts that didn’t comply.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who led a lawsuit joined by 12 other states and two school districts that blocked the guidelines, praised the Justice Department’s decision to drop the Fifth Circuit appeal.
“The administration’s directive was not just an unwarranted invasion of the privacy of countless students and employees, but it was an illegal usurpation of the authority of state and local officials,” Paxton said in a statement.
Paxton and other Texas Republican leaders say they don’t want men posing as transgender females to enter women’s bathrooms to ogle or assault women.
The Texas Privacy Act, a bill proposed in January by a Republican state senator, would ban counties, cities and public schools from letting transgender people use bathrooms of their choice.
The state attorney general could sue school districts and local governments that defy the restrictions for up to $1,500 for the first violation and $10,500 for subsequent violations, with each day out of compliance counting as a violation. Private businesses could set their own policies.
Pointing to the economic fallout of a similar bill passed in North Carolina in March 2016, business leaders claim the measure could cost Texas billions in tax revenue and tourism dollars and dampen Texas’ business-friendly reputation, dissuading companies from opening offices in the state.
Even the National Football League has warned Texas leaders not to pass Senate Bill 6, known as the Texas Bathroom Bill.
"If a proposal that is discriminatory or inconsistent with our values were to become law there, that would certainly be a factor considered when thinking about awarding future events,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in a statement a week after Houston hosted Super Bowl LI.
LGBT advocates decried the Trump administration’s revocation of the Obama directive as declaring open-season for bullying of transgender students, and lamented Sessions’ decision not to defend it in court.
Less than 48 hours after Sessions was confirmed as attorney general, the Justice Department withdrew its motion to stay the injunction against Obama’s directive. In the motion, the department had asked the New Orleans-based Fifth Circuit to dial back the injunction so it only applied to the 13 states who sued over the directive.
In comparison to Sessions, Obama’s attorney general Loretta Lynch sued North Carolina over its bathroom bill, framing the struggle for transgender rights to African-Americans fighting in the 1960s to get rid of discriminatory laws in the South.
The debate might soon be settled by the U.S. Supreme Court. It will hear oral arguments on March 28 in the case Gloucester County School Board v. Gavin Grimm, in which a transgender high school senior is taking on a policy that blocks him from using boys’ bathrooms.
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