The Texas Supreme Court on Friday issued a multipart ruling on investigations into transgender care for minors that has both sides claiming victory.
The court’s ruling stops an investigation into the family of one transgender minor but strikes down a statewide injunction blocking investigations into the parents of other transgender youths. The court also ruled that Gov. Greg Abbott does not have authority over such investigations.
In February, Abbott, a Republican, ordered the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, the state's child welfare agency, to investigate child abuse claims filed against parents who might be providing their transgender children with gender-affirming medical care.
One of the agency’s first investigations was into one of its own employees, who has a transgender child.
The American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal sued on behalf of the employee, referred to as Jane Doe, and Megan Mooney, a psychologist who treats transgender youths. In March, a federal judge upheld a statewide injunction preventing all investigations under Abbott’s order.
Attorney General Ken Paxton appealed, and the Texas Supreme Court struck down the statewide injunction Friday. It upheld part of the injunction — only blocking the investigation into Doe’s family, though the state had opened a total of nine investigations.
Initial reports of the Texas Supreme Court’s ruling said the other investigations can resume, but the ruling didn’t state that explicitly. Justice Jimmy Blacklock wrote in the opinion that Abbott and Paxton lack the authority to direct the child protective services agency to investigate the parents of transgender youth.
“The Governor and the Attorney General were certainly well within their rights to state their legal and policy views on this topic, but DFPS was not compelled by law to follow them,” he wrote. “[T]he Legislature has granted to DFPS, not to the Governor or the Attorney General, the statutory responsibility to ‘make a prompt and thorough investigation of a report of child abuse or neglect.’”
Both sides claimed the ruling as a victory.
The ACLU, ACLU of Texas and Lambda Legal said in a joint statement that the decision is “a win for our clients and the rule of law.”
“The court rejected the attorney general’s arguments that our lawsuit should be dismissed and affirmed that DFPS is not required to follow the governor’s directive or the attorney general’s non-binding opinion,” the groups said, according to a press release.
Paxton also celebrated the decision.
“Just secured a win for families against the gender ideology of doctors, big pharma, clinics trying to ‘trans’ confused, innocent children,” he wrote in a tweet Friday. He added that the Supreme Court of Texas “green-lighted investigations” that lower courts with judges appointed by Democrats had frozen.
Even though the statewide injunction is no longer in place, the Supreme Court’s decision could affect other investigations should they resume.
Karen Loewy, senior counsel for Lambda Legal, said the state's Supreme Court did support the finding that the state’s investigation into the Doe family would cause irreparable harm.
“By crediting that irreparable harm finding, it basically means that every time the agency goes to investigate a family based solely on the fact that they are providing the medically recognized, provider-recommended course of care for their children, that that same irreparable harm happens” Loewy said. “So if this policy is unlawful as to our clients, it is unlawful as to every other Texas family that DFPS might try and target.”
One family currently under investigation is bracing for what could happen next. Amber Briggle, whose 13-year-old son is transgender, reacted to the court’s decision on Twitter.
“The injunction protected my family from further investigation,” Briggle, who lives near Dallas, said. “Now that that has been overturned, CPS can once again knock on my door any minute now.”
Houston parent Katie L. said her 15-year-old son, who is trans masculine, heard about the court's decision Friday and asked her to pick him up from school early.
“He is in panic mode,” she said, adding that every time she and her family feel like they’re in a “relatively safe holding pattern” something happens that reminds her they’re not.
Katie told NBC News in March that she is moving her family to Denver this summer due to Abbott’s directive and anti-transgender legislation in the state. On Friday, however, she said they may not wait that long.
“At this point, I’m going to be talking to our future landlord about maybe even bumping up our lease date just to see what the possibilities are if we wanted to leave faster,” she said. “It’s so unfortunate. All of this time and energy should be spent on positive things for our family and positive things for our future, and it feels like we’re always getting thrown back into this defensive, adrenaline-fueled position. It’s a nightmare.”
Adri Pèrez, policy and advocacy strategist for LGBTQ equality at the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, said there’s been “a tsunami of parents leaving the state of Texas,” but there are also parents who can’t leave and who are wondering how to keep their kids safe.
“For weeks we have been able to rely on the statewide injunction on the investigations to bring families and their kids peace,” Pèrez said. “Unfortunately, that’s gone now, and I am afraid to break the news to them.”