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Sixth Circuit Allows Tennessee Ban on Transgender Surgery for Minors to Go Into Effect

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit temporarily reversed a lower court decision on Saturday, allowing Tennessee’s ban on “gender-affirming care” for children to go into effect while the appeal is pending.

In March, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) signed legislation that would ban sex change operations, cross-sex hormone therapy, and puberty blockers for minors who are attempting to transition.

The parents of transgender children undergoing such major treatments and procedures sued the state, hoping to prevent the law from going into effect. President Joe Biden’s Department of Justice also joined the lawsuit against Tennessee.

Last month, a federal district court judge in Tennessee ruled the state’s law was unconstitutional on the basis of sex discrimination, preventing the law from taking effect.

However, a two-to-one majority of the Sixth Circuit Federal Appeals Court on Saturday granted Tennessee’s emergency appeal, holding that the state will likely succeed in appealing the preliminary injunction blocking the law.

The law, which was set to go into effect on July 1, will now go into effect immediately. It authorizes Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti to investigate healthcare providers who violate the ban and issue fines of up to $25,000.

The majority wrote that policy issues like transgender care are better suited for the legislature rather than the judiciary.

“Given the high stakes of these nascent policy deliberations —the long-term health of children facing gender dysphoria— sound government usually benefits from more rather than less debate,” wrote President George W. Bush appointee, Chief Judge Jeffrey Sutton.

He was joined by Judge Amal Thapar, a Donald Trump-appointed judge.

The Sixth Circuit’s decision, which covers Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee, and Kentucky, marks the first federal circuit decision to allow a ban on “gender-affirming care” for minors to go into effect.

“We appreciate their perspectives, and they give us pause,” Sutton wrote of other judge’s decisions. “But they do not eliminate our doubts.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, other advocacy groups, and attorneys for the plaintiffs called the Sixth Circuit’s decision “disappointing and a heartbreaking development” in a joint statement.

“As we and our clients consider our next steps, we want all the transgender youth of Tennessee to know this fight is far from over and we will continue to challenge this law until it is permanently defeated and Tennessee is made a safer place to raise every family,” the statement said.

On the other hand, Skrmetti praised the decision as a “big win.”

“This case is far from over, but this is a big win. The court of appeals lifted the injunction, meaning the law can be fully enforced, and recognized that Tennessee is likely to win the constitutional argument and the case,” Skrmetti said in a statement.

Sutton announced the court would expedite the appeals process, with the goal of resolving the case by September 30.

The case is Williams v. Skrmetti, No. 23-5600, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

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