CHICAGO (CN) – A divided Seventh Circuit ruled Friday that the 11th Amendment shields Indiana officials from a transgender immigrant’s challenge to the state’s citizenship requirements for a legal name change.
Suing under a pseudonym, John Doe challenged a 2010 Indiana law requiring any Indiana resident seeking a name change to provide proof of U.S. citizenship.
A 32-year-old Mexican national, Doe says he has lived in the United States since he was 5 years old. He got married in 2014 to a U.S. citizen and won asylum in the U.S. because of the persecution he might face in Mexico for being transgender.
Two years after marrying, the Marion County, Ind., couple welcomed a baby boy.
In his 2016 lawsuit, Doe said he planned to apply for permanent U.S. residency, but will have to wait three years before applying for naturalization.
In the meantime, his marriage license uses the female name he was given when he was born, and as a person granted political asylum, he cannot provide proof of U.S. citizenship.
Doe’s complaint details several traumatic encounters where he was forced to show his ID, with his legal female name, exposing him to humiliation and ridicule.
Once in 2011, after being pulled over for a minor traffic infraction, Doe says an officer threatened to jail him for carrying a fake ID.
When Doe arranged for a ride home, he says the officer refused to use male pronouns when referring to him.
“You can take I-don’t-know-what-it-is with you,” the officer allegedly told Doe’s wife.
Two years later, Doe claims he had to show his ID at the emergency room for treatment.
“The hospital staff was confused when they first saw his ID. Once they realized that Mr. Doe is transgender, though, their confusion turned to ridicule,” the complaint states. “Five of the nurses gathered around to laugh at Mr. Doe. Mr. Doe’s doctor was more professional, and he eventually received treatment.”
However, a federal judge ruled that the 11th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution – which deals with states’ sovereign immunity – bars Doe’s lawsuit, and the Seventh Circuit affirmed Friday.
“Even if a plaintiff could otherwise establish that he has standing to sue a state or a state official, the Eleventh Amendment generally immunizes those defendants from suit in federal court,” U.S. Circuit Judge Michael Kanne wrote for the panel’s majority. “A plaintiff can avoid this bar, however, by naming a state official who has ‘some connection with the enforcement’ of an allegedly unconstitutional state statute for the purpose of enjoining that enforcement.”
Judge Kanne continued, “Doe has not shown that any of the named state officials are connected with the enforcement of the name‐change statute, so the Eleventh Amendment bars his suit against them.”
Doe sued the state’s governor, attorney general, executive director of state court administration, and the Marion County court clerk, but none of these positions have a positive duty to enforce the name-change law, according to the 19-page opinion.
And although the Marion County clerk is not a state official, and is therefore not protected by the 11th Amendment, Doe has no claim against her either, the court ruled.
“The clerk has no power to grant or deny a petition. She is tasked only with accepting and processing petitions without any authority to screen them,” Kanne said.
U.S. Circuit Judge Diane Wood dissented.
“In my view, the majority’s analysis gives insufficient weight to the significant roles played by the attorney general, executive director, and clerk in enforcing the name‐change statute and preventing Doe from securing official recognition of his identity,” Wood said. “Because the authority and duties of all three undergird the deprivation of constitutional rights asserted by Doe, all three must answer to his suit.”