West Virginia on Thursday asked the US Supreme Court to allow it to enforce a state law that prohibits transgender women and girls from participating in public school sports.
The emergency request filed to the court by state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey gives the justices a chance to weigh in on a hot-button issue that has taken center stage in recent years as Republican-led states have moved to impose restrictions on the lives of trans youth, with a particular focus on school sports.
GOP Gov. Jim Justice signed the law in 2021. A transgender student athlete in the state quickly sued, and a district court temporarily blocked the law three months after it was enacted. But earlier this year the district court ruled in favor of the state. The athlete then appealed to the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals, which put the law on hold again. Now, the state is asking the nation’s highest court to step in.
“This Court should vacate the Fourth Circuit’s injunction and allow the Act to continue protecting West Virginia student athletes this spring and beyond,” Morrisey and attorneys for the Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing a former college athlete who intervened in the case on behalf of the state, wrote in their emergency request.
“This case implicates a question fraught with emotions and differing perspectives. That is all the more reason to defer to state lawmakers pending appeal,” the attorneys told the court. “The decision was the West Virginia Legislature’s to make. The end of this litigation will confirm that it made a valid one.”
The court has asked attorneys representing the law’s challenger, Becky Pepper-Jackson, to file a response to the emergency request by March 20.
Those lawyers said in a statement on Thursday that they will “vigorously defend Becky’s right to participate in team sports, and would urge state legislators countrywide to just let the kids play.”
“West Virginia refuses to address the facts of Becky’s case and instead talks about elite athletic competitions that have nothing to do with the facts here. (Morrisey) and his allies have cherry-picked unique incidents and ignored the overwhelming evidence that allowing transgender youth to participate in team sports has benefits for all,” Lambda Legal, an LGBTQ legal group, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU West Virginia wrote in a joint statement.
A number of GOP-controlled states have enacted similar sports bans in recent years, with at least eight putting one on their books in 2022 alone. In pushing such measures, conservatives have argued that transgender women and girls have physical advantages over cisgender women and girls in sports, though a 2017 report found “no direct or consistent research” on any such advantage.
The Supreme Court has previously declined to weigh in on other high-profile cases concerning the rights of trans students. In 2021, the court stayed out of a dispute over whether a trans student could use the bathroom that corresponded to his gender identity, handing a victory to the LGBTQ community.