Supreme Court Blocks Ruling Allowing Trans Student to Use Public School Bathroom

Visitors walk outside the U.S. Supreme Court.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court blocked a lower court order requiring a Virginia school board to let a transgender student use the correct bathroom at his public school. Previously, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit had held that Title IX’s ban on sex discrimination forbade the school board from discriminating against a trans student, Gavin Grimm, on the basis of his gender identity. In response, a district court blocked the school board from excluding Grimm from the men’s bathroom. The Supreme Court’s intervention, however, ensures that Grimm may be legally excluded from the proper facilities as he begins his senior year of high school.

Chief Justice John Roberts, along with Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Stephen Breyer, and Samuel Alito, voted to halt the lower court’s ruling from taking effect. In an odd concurrence, Breyer explained that he had merely issued a “courtesy” vote to “preserve the status quo” while the court is in recess. (The “status quo” here means that Grimm will be forbidden from using the correct bathroom at school.) If the court decides to hear the case in proper, Wednesday’s stay will remain until it issues a decision. If the court refuses to hear the case, the stay will dissolve. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan dissented from the court’s decision and would have allowed the lower court’s ruling to take effect. Thus, the split was 5-3.

The Virginia school board in question had explicitly targeted Grimm, the only known trans student in the school system, on the basis of his gender identity, singling him out for mistreatment. At one school board hearing, speakers called Grimm a “freak” and compared him to a dog that urinates on fire hydrants. Despite this incessant persecution, Grimm forged ahead while remaining enrolled at the school that sought a legal right to discriminate against him. On Wednesday, thanks to the high court’s conservatives—and Justice Stephen Breyer—Grimm lost the right to begin his senior year with the dignity afforded to him by the law.