Supreme Court rules transgender girl can run in West Virginia as trial continues
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court on Thursday allowed a 12-year-old transgender girl in West Virginia to continue competing on her university’s women’s sports teams while a state ban trial continues.
Judges declined to interfere with an appeals court order that allowed the girl, Becky Pepper-Jackson, to continue playing on her school’s track and field and cross-country teams, where she regularly finishes in the back of the pack.
Judges Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas allegedly allowed West Virginia to enforce its law against Pepper-Jackson.
Pepper-Jackson is in the middle of outdoor track season. She had filed a lawsuit against the law, the Save Women’s Sports Act, which West Virginia lawmakers passed in 2021. A federal appeals court had allowed her to participate while she appealed a lower court decision upholding West Virginia law.
In an emailed statement from the West Virginia Chapter of the ACLU to The Associated Press Thursday night, Pepper-Jackson said, “I am so glad the Supreme Court saw that this stay was not an emergency. I can still play with my friends and track team mates. That’s all I want to do is be with my friends and be the girl I am.
The Supreme Court announcement came on the same day the Biden administration proposed a new rule that would prevent schools and colleges from outright banning transgender athletes, but allow for some exceptions to promote fairness or lessen the wounds.
Two weeks ago, athletics banned transgender athletes from international competitions. According to the Movement Advancement Project, a pro-LGBTQ think tank, West Virginia is one of 20 states that ban transgender athletes from participating in sports that are compatible with their gender identity.
LEARN MORE: Biden Administration Proposes Rule Banning Transgender Athletes, But Allowing Limits
West Virginia Governor Jim Justice, a Republican, also recently signed into law banning gender-affirming care for minors, as part of an effort in Republican-led states across the country to limit child abuse. LGBTQ+ rights this year.
West Virginia school athletic competition law excludes transgender athletes from women’s teams. Signed by justice, the law defines man and woman taking into account the student’s “biology of reproduction and genetics at birth”. It applies to colleges and high schools, as well as colleges.
By law, male athletes can play on men’s or mixed teams, and female athletes can play on all teams.
In a statement after the trial, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said he was “deeply disappointed with the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court.”
The organizations that supported Pepper-Jackson said they were “grateful.” “It was an unwarranted and vicious attempt to keep Becky where she belongs — to play alongside her peers as a teammate and as a friend,” the American Civil Liberties Union, West Virginia ACLU and Lambda Legal said in a joint statement.
Tennis great Martina Navratilova was one of dozens of women athletes who supported West Virginia on the Supreme Court, along with Republican attorneys general from 21 states.
U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Goodwin initially barred West Virginia from enforcing the law and allowed Pepper-Jackson to compete on girls’ teams while the case continued.
But Goodwin ultimately concluded that the law did not violate the Constitution or Title IX, the landmark 1972 gender equality legislation. Goodwin, an appointee of former President Bill Clinton, decided that the law could remain in effect as long as the appeals process continued.
The girl’s lawyers, known in the lawsuit by the initials BPJ, appealed. A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals voted 2 to 1, without issuing an advisory opinion, to suspend the law while it considers the case.
The two appeals court judges who voted to suspend the law were Pamela A. Harris, an appointee of former President Barack Obama, and Toby J. Heytens, an appointee of President Joe Biden. Judge G. Steven Agee, appointed by former President George W. Bush, disagreed.
The Supreme Court offered no justification for its actions on Thursday.
Alito disagreed, writing, “I would grant the state’s request. Among other things, the application of the law in question must not be prohibited without explanation by the federal courts. Thomas joined the disagreements.
West Virginia asked the Supreme Court to allow the law to go into effect as the case unfolds, telling the judges, “This case is a matter full of emotions and different perspectives. That’s all the more reason to defer pending appeals to state lawmakers. … The decision was up to the West Virginia Legislative Assembly. The end of this lawsuit will confirm that it was valid.
Pepper-Jackson is identified by her initials in court documents due to federal rules prohibiting the identification of minors. But Pepper-Jackson and her mother have repeatedly spoken out on the issue.
Associated Press reporter Jessica Gresko contributed to this report.
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