High Court Won’t Intervene in Transgender Inmate’s Surgery

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Supreme Court cleared the way with a one-line order Thursday night for a transgender Idaho inmate to undergo sex reassignment surgery.  

Adree Edmo in 2014. (Idaho Department of Correction via AP, File)

Adree Edmo has been in prison since 2012 and given hormone-replacement therapy throughout that incarceration. Because she still has male genitalia, however, Edmo says she is clinically distressed. Twice during her incarceration, Edmo attempted self-castration. After the second attempt in 2015, the psychiatrist working with the state prison system’s health contractor Corizon refused to recommend her for gender-reassignment surgery, and Edmo filed suit.

A federal judge sided with Edmo and ordered the surgery, holding the decision to deny the operation violated the Eighth Amendment. The state first sought a reversal from the Ninth Circuit, and, when that proved unsuccessful, asked the Supreme Court earlier this month for a stay .

In their application, attorneys for the state and the prison doctor argued the Ninth Circuit was wrong to adopt the guidelines of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health for when a transgender person should have sex-reassignment surgery. It told the justices the Ninth Circuit had lowered the bar on what constitutes cruel and unusual punishment and could deter doctors from working with the state. 

“By constitutionalizing a right to controversial medical treatments with complex ramifications simply based on the views of an advocacy organization, the Ninth Circuit has tied the hands of prison providers and administrators,” the Department of Correction’s brief argued.  

In opposing the say, Edmo argued the state was mischaracterizing the Ninth Circuit’s decision and that she is at risk of significant harm every day she goes without surgery.

“As every court to consider this case has found, the balance of hardships swings heavily in one direction: each day applicants withhold necessary medical treatment, Adree Edmo suffers irreparable harm,” Edmo’s brief states. 

As is its usual practice, the court’s order does not explain why the justices denied the stay, though it does note Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito would have granted the state’s request. 

Idaho Governor Brad Little said the decision is a setback, but that it will not end the state’s legal fight.

“I am disappointed that the court did not grant the stay, but I remain hopeful and committed to doing everything we can to get the Ninth Circuit’s decision reversed and ensure the taxpayers of Idaho do not have to pay for this surgery that is not medically necessary,” Little said in a statement.

Lori Rifkin, a Berkeley, Calif., attorney who represents Edmo, said the court’s decision likely means her client’s surgery will be able to go forward in July as scheduled.

“Idaho has fought this case tooth and nail and done everything that they can to try to fight providing this surgery to our client,” Rifkin said in an interview. “The Supreme Court is the final word on that, and the Supreme Court has spoken. And it’s time for Idaho to do what the Constitution says it needs to do and provide our client with necessary treatment.”.

Idaho tapped lawyers at the Boise firm Moore Elia for the appeal. The prison doctor is represented by Parsons Behle, another Boise firm.

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