A recently passed Idaho law banning transgender women from competing in women’s sports — the first such law in the nation — received backing on Friday from the administration of President Donald Trump.
The support came in the form of a court filing submitted by the U.S. Department of Justice, saying a federal judge considering a lawsuit challenging the ban should conclude that the law does not violate the U.S. Constitution.
The ban prohibits transgender students who identify as female from playing on female teams sponsored by public schools, colleges and universities. The ban does not apply to men’s teams.
The American Civil Liberties Union and Legal Voice women's rights group that filed the lawsuit in April, contending the law violates the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause because it is discriminatory.
The Justice Department wrote that the “Equal Protection Clause does not require states to abandon their efforts to provide biological women with equal opportunity to compete for, and enjoy the life-long benefits that flow from, participation in school athletics in order to accommodate the team preferences of transgender athletes.”
Republican Gov. Brad Little on March 30 signed into law the measure that received overwhelming support in Idaho's Republican-dominated House and Senate and was unanimously opposed by Democrats. It takes effect July 1, though the lawsuit seeks a preliminary injunction to prevent that.
Ritchie Eppink, legal director for the ACLU of Idaho, said the arguments in the Justice Department filing are anti-transgender arguments that have been used for years and will ultimately fail.
“The Trump administration has been attacking trans folks in the United States since basically inauguration day,” he said. “It’s not surprising they made this a part of their anti-trans agenda as well.”
Two plaintiffs are bringing the lawsuit. One is an unnamed Boise area high school student who is cisgender. Cisgender refers to someone whose gender identity corresponds with the sex the person was identified as having at birth.
The other is Lindsay Hecox, who will be a sophomore this fall at Boise State University and hopes to qualify for the women’s cross-country team. She competed on the boys’ team at a Moorpark, California, high school before transitioning after graduating.
The NCAA has a policy allowing transgender athletes to compete. But the sponsor of the Idaho law, Republican Barbara Ehardt, has called the NCAA policy “permissive.”
Ehardt has said that allowing transgender athletes on girls’ and women’s teams would negate nearly 50 years of progress women have made since the landmark 1972 Title IX federal legislation credited with opening up sports to female athletes plus scholarships and other opportunities.
Backers cite Title IX as a legal defense to the new law, but the lawsuit contends that the new law is a violation of Title IX, which bans sex discrimination in education.
Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian group that defends against what it identifies as threats to religious freedoms, is seeking to intervene in the case on behalf of two female athletes at Idaho State University and welcomed the involvement of the Department of Justice.
“We commend the DOJ for supporting a level playing field for female athletes,” the group said in a statement.
The Trump administration filed a similar document in March in another federal lawsuit in Connecticut focusing on transgender college athletes.
The Justice Department in that case is supporting a lawsuit filed last year by several cisgender female track athletes who argued that two transgender female runners had an unfair physical advantage.