Supreme Court to Review Transgender Care Ban in Tennessee

The case will address the conflict between state bans and sex-based discrimination.

In this February 2023 photo, advocates gather for a rally at the Tennessee State Capitol in Nashville to oppose a series of bills that target the LGBTQ community. Photo Credit: Jonathan Mattise/AP/File via CNN Newsource
Originally Published: 24 JUN 24 09:36 ET
Updated: 24 JUN 24 11:41 ET

(CNN) — The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear the Biden administration’s challenge to a transgender care ban in Tennessee, delving into the complicated and politically fraught issue of gender-affirming care in a substantive way for the first time.

The state law, enacted last year, bans hormone therapy and puberty blockers for minors and imposes civil penalties for doctors who violate the prohibitions. It is among a growing number of state laws enacted in recent years targeting transgender care.

Nearly half of US states have enacted bans on transgender care for minors, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

The case will be heard this fall.

“The Supreme Court was always going to have to resolve how state bans on gender-affirming medical care can be reconciled with its approach to sex-based discrimination,” said Steve Vladeck, CNN Supreme Court analyst and professor at the University of Texas School of Law. “Today’s grant sets up this issue as one of the early blockbusters for the Court’s upcoming term.”

Laws in Kentucky and Tennessee were challenged by the Biden administration and families of transgender minors. The Supreme Court only agreed to hear the challenge filed by the Biden administration in Tennessee.

In September, the 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati reversed a district court ruling that blocked the gender-affirming care ban from being enforced. In other words, the appeals court allowed the ban to take effect.

Republican lawmakers who support the ban say decisions about care should be made after an individual becomes an adult. Opponents argue that in addition to violating the civil rights of trans youth, the laws also run afoul of parents’ rights to make decisions about their child’s medical care.

Tennessee’s law says that medical providers cannot perform procedures that “enable a minor to identify with, or live as, a purported identity inconsistent with the minor’s sex” or “treat purported discomfort or distress from a discordance between the minor’s sex and asserted identity.”

The legal fights over similar bans have been moving through federal courts for more than a year. In April, the Supreme Court allowed Idaho officials to temporarily enforce a strict statewide ban on gender-affirming care for most minors, although it did so on a temporary basis without resolving the underlying questions posed by the case.

Several groups that advocate for transgender youth called on the Supreme Court to strike down Tennessee’s law.

“It’s simple: Everyone deserves access to the medical care that they need, and transgender and non-binary young people are no exception,” said Kelley Robinson, president of the Human Rights Campaign. “No politician should be able to interfere in decisions that are best made between families and doctors, particularly when that care is necessary and best practice.”

Lucas Cameron-Vaughn, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, criticized state lawmakers for using the bans to “fuel divisions for their own political gain.”

“It’s crucial to recognize that for trans youth and their families, this isn’t about politics,” Cameron-Vaughn said. “It’s about the fundamental freedom to access vital, life-saving healthcare.”

Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti, a Republican, said his office looks forward to defending the law.

“This case will bring much-needed clarity to whether the Constitution contains special protections for gender identity,” he said.

This story has been updated with additional details.

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