Supreme Court Clears Way, for Now, for Idaho to Ban Transgender Treatment for Minors

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The Supreme Court on Monday temporarily allowed a ban to take effect in Idaho on gender-affirming treatment for minors, a signal that at least some justices appear comfortable with wading into another front in the culture wars.

In siding with state officials who had asked the court to lift a block on the law, the justices were split, with a majority of the conservative justices voting to enforce the ban over the objections of the three liberal justices. The justices also specified that their decision would remain in place until the appeals process had ended.

The court specified that it would allow the ban to apply to everyone except the plaintiffs who brought the challenge.

Although orders on the emergency docket often include no reasoning, the decision included concurrences by Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, who was joined by Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Clarence Thomas, and Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, who was joined by Justice Amy Coney Barrett.

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson dissented and was joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Justice Elena Kagan noted a dissent.

The law, passed by the state’s Republican-controlled Legislature, makes it a felony for doctors to provide transgender medical care for minors, including hormone treatment.

States around the country have pushed to restrict transgender rights. At least 20 states with Republican-controlled legislatures, including Idaho, have enacted legislation that limits access for gender transition care for minors.

Idaho officials had appealed to the Supreme Court after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, upheld a temporary block on the law as litigation continues in lower courts.

The law, the Vulnerable Child Protection Act, makes it a crime for medical providers to offer medical care to transgender teenagers.

Attorney General Raúl R. Labrador of Idaho, in his emergency application, said that the case raised a recurring question that a majority of the justices had expressed interest in: whether a court can enact what is known as a universal injunction, which freezes a state law from going into effect — not just for the parties directly involved in the case, but for everyone.

Mr. Labrador contended that a federal court erred in applying the freeze so expansively. “The plaintiffs are two minors and their parents, and the injunction covers two million,” he wrote.

Temporarily barring the law meant “leaving vulnerable children subject to procedures that even plaintiffs’ experts agree are inappropriate for some of them,” he added.

Mr. Labrador continued, “These procedures have lifelong, irreversible consequences, with more and more minors voicing their regret for taking this path.”

The plaintiffs, two minors and their parents who are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, argued that this case was not the right vehicle for addressing concerns about universal injunctions.

That is because the four plaintiffs are anonymous, referred to only by pseudonyms. If the court narrowed the temporary pause on the Idaho law to apply only to those directly involved in the lawsuit, the plaintiffs, including minors, would be forced to “disclose their identities as the transgender plaintiffs in this litigation to staff at doctors’ offices and pharmacies every time they visited a doctor or sought to fill their prescriptions.”

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