WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear an appeal by a convicted murderer who filed a civil rights lawsuit because Texas prison officials denied her request to be considered for gender reassignment surgery.
The justices let stand a lower court's decision to reject the claim by inmate Vanessa Lynn Gibson that denying the surgery request violated the U.S. Constitution's Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
Gibson, 41, who is transgender, was assigned male at birth and has lived as a female since age 15. Gibson was incarcerated in 1995 for aggravated assault, then was convicted of murdering a fellow inmate in 1997. She is eligible for parole in 2021.
Court papers said Gibson was diagnosed in 2014 with gender dysphoria, which medical experts define as distress from the internal conflict between physical gender and gender identity. She has suffered from severe depression, engaged in self-mutilation and attempted suicide several times, court papers said.
Gibson was provided with hormone therapy, but Texas has no policy allowing for "irreversible surgical intervention," according to the state.
Gibson sued in federal court claiming that by refusing to conduct a medical evaluation for gender reassignment surgery prison officials were deliberately indifferent to her serious medical needs, a form of banned cruel and unusual punishment.
The Supreme Court in 1976 ruled that a deliberate indifference to serious medical needs of prisoners violates the Eighth Amendment because it is an "unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain."
The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in March rejected Gibson's claim. In the decision, Judge James Ho, an appointee of President Donald Trump, said it is not cruel to deny a treatment that no other prison provides.