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Idaho's transgender birth certificate ban goes back to court

The governor signed a bill banning people from changing the genders on their birth certificates, even though a judge had ruled such a ban unconstitutional.
Image: U.S. District Court building in Boise
People leave the U.S. District Court building in Boise, Idaho on June 6, 2019.Rebecca Boone / AP file

BOISE, Idaho — The group whose lawsuit successfully forced the state of Idaho to allow transgender people to change the genders on their birth certificates has returned to court on Thursday, asking a judge to affirm that her 2018 ruling that the state could not ban the changes still stands.

The move came nearly two weeks after Republican Idaho Gov. Brad Little signed into law a bill that passed despite warnings it was almost sure to generate a legal challenge because of the previous ruling.

The request for affirmation of the ruling on behalf of two transgender women was filed by Boise attorney Monica Cockerille, who is working on the case with the Lambda Legal group, which defends the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people.

The ruling at issue came from U.S. District Judge Candy Dale, who said that Idaho's previous ban on birth certificate changes violated the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. At the time, she also warned the state against making new rules with the same impact.

But state lawmakers disregarded warnings from the Idaho attorney general that the new law would also be overturned, potentially costing taxpayers $1 million in legal bills to defend it. Backers of the legislation said the federal court was wrong and that the law was needed to ensure accuracy of the state’s birth records.

The new law prohibiting transgender people from changing the gender listed on their birth certificates takes effect July 1.

There was no immediate response to emails seeking comment sent to Little's office. Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden declined to comment.

Cockerille said in legal documents that the federal judge made it clear in 2018 “that Idaho state officials could not categorically ban transgender people from correcting their birth certificates for the purpose of matching their gender identity.”

The new law is “in defiance of that constitutional ruling, which was backed by the force of a permanent injunction of this Court,” Cockerille wrote.

Lambda Legal attorney, Peter Renn, called the new ban “a naked flouting of the rule of law.”

He added: “It is shocking that state lawmakers would be so brazenly lawless as to defy a federal court ruling. The rule of law collapses if we refuse to abide by the outcome of who wins and loses in our system of justice.”

Idaho's state lawmakers have a history of passing laws on abortion and other issues that they know they will have to defend — and probably lose — in court.

On Wednesday two other civil rights groups filed a lawsuit against the state over another new law banning transgender women from competing in women's sports.

Five former Idaho attorneys general had warned lawmakers and the governor that the transgender athlete ban would likely be found unconstitutional if a legal case challenging it is brought before a judge.

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