U.S. Appeals Court Reinstates Tennessee Law Banning Medical Procedures for Transgender Youth
An appeals court in the United States has ruled that a Tennessee law, which prevents doctors from offering medical treatments like puberty blockers and surgery to transgender-identifying minors, can be implemented immediately.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit determined that the advocacy groups challenging the law failed to demonstrate a high probability of success in proving that it violated the U.S. Constitution. By a vote of 2-1, a three-judge panel overturned a previous ruling that had halted the enforcement of the law during the legal challenge.
“[W]hile the challengers do invoke constitutional precedents of the Supreme Court and our Court in bringing this lawsuit, not one of them resolves these claims,” Judge Jeffrey Sutton, writing the opinion for the three-judge appeals court panel, noted. “In each instance, they seek to extend the constitutional guarantees to new territory.”
Judge Sutton also cautioned against judges tampering with a contentious and novel subject of medical debate by interpreting an unalterable federal constitution to dominate the issue.
“Parents, it is true, have a substantive due process right ‘to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of their children’,” he added. “But the Supreme Court cases recognizing this right confine it to narrow fields, such as education… and visitation rights. No Supreme Court case extends it to a general right to receive new medical or experimental drug treatments. In view of the high stakes of constitutionalizing areas of public policy, any such right must be defined with care.”
Tennessee’s legislation is part of a growing trend among Republican lawmakers to impose stricter regulations on medical procedures provided to transgender minors. Advocates for the law argue that it is necessary to safeguard minors from potential long-term harm, while medical associations maintain that gender-affirming care can be crucial for saving lives. The law prohibits any medical procedure performed with the intention of assisting a minor in transitioning to a gender different from their biologically determined sex.
Previously, federal judges had prevented five similar laws from being enforced, deeming them in violation of the constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the law. However, the appeals court’s recent decision suggests that matters pertaining to controversial medical procedures provided to minors are best resolved by state legislatures unless a clear violation of the Constitution is demonstrated.
Judge Helen White expressed her belief that Tennessee’s law is likely to be considered unconstitutional due to it being of a purportedly “discriminatory” nature. Judge Sutton emphasized that the appeals court aims to issue a final ruling on the law by September 30 and acknowledged that initial perspectives may be subject to revision.
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OPINION: This article contains commentary which reflects the author’s opinion.