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11 States Sue Obama Administration Over Transgender Student Guidance

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

A new legal front opened today between the states and the federal government over transgender rights. Texas and ten other states filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration over the recent guidance telling public schools they should let transgender students use restrooms that match their gender identity. NPR's Debbie Elliott has been following this news, and she is with us now how. Hi there, Debbie.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Hi there.

MCEVERS: So a couple of weeks ago, North Carolina and the federal government each sued each other over this issue. It sounds like this is now expanding to other states. Is that right?

ELLIOTT: It is. Now 11 states in total and two local school districts are suing. They're basically asking a federal judge to nullify that federal guidance that students should be able to use restrooms, locker rooms and other public facilities at schools that match their gender identity.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton says the president is overstepping his authority here, and he's trying to accomplish by, quote, "executive fiat", what he can't get through Congress.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KEN PAXTON: Simply put, the Obama administration has decided to simply exclude Congress entirely. By forcing through his policies by executive action, President Obama has excluded the voice of the people. We stand today to ensure that those voices are heard.

MCEVERS: And beyond this idea of, you know, executive overreach, what are some of the other arguments being made here in this suit?

ELLIOTT: Well, a couple of things they talk about are the 10th and the 14th Amendments, making this a states' rights issue, that the federal government is intruding on a policy area that should be left up to state and local governments. And in fact, at that news conference today with the Texas attorney general, a superintendent from a local school district there - the Harrold School District - said they have joined this lawsuit because they're the ones who have a right to set, quote, "common sense privacy protections for students". And they say they join this case to keep the Obama administration out of Texas' children's restrooms - so definitely setting up a battle here over states' rights.

And there are political implications here, too. We should note that these 11 states are predominantly Republican. They're all over the map from Maine to Utah, several Southern states in there. So there is a political dimension to this. And then getting back to that whole notion of, this should be left up to Congress - this lawsuit says that under current federal law, there are protections for students against sex discrimination but that under most of these federal laws, that means their biological sex, not their gender identity and that it would be up to Congress to come in and change that definition.

MCEVERS: What's been the reaction so far to today's announcement?

ELLIOTT: Well, LGBT advocates are blasting this lawsuit. They're calling it political. The Human Rights Campaign said this is a shameful attack on transgender youth.

And then on the other side, the Conservative Family Research Council is applauding this action, saying it's time to stand up to the president who is trying to somehow transform the country. President Tony Perkins said they're encouraged by the state leaders who are reading to stand up to the Obama administration's, quote, "unilateral redefinition of federal law."

MCEVERS: That's NPR's Debbie Elliott. Debbie, thank you so much.

ELLIOTT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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