WASHINGTON – A federal judge on Monday blocked efforts by the Trump administration to remove protections for transgender patients from discrimination by doctors, hospitals and health insurance companies, in a blow to the broader legal grounds that have been trying to protect transgender rights to undo the government.
Justice Frederic Block of the United States District Court in Brooklyn ruled that the government's new ruling, passed by the Department of Health and Human Services Civil Rights Office in mid-June, appeared to be incompatible with a Supreme Court case days later found that employers cannot discriminate against transgender people in the workplace.
His decision temporarily blocks enforcement of the new rule, which should go into effect Tuesday, while a lawsuit progresses.
"When the Supreme Court pronounces an important decision, it makes sense to pause and consider the implications of the decision," wrote Judge Block. "Since H.H.S. was not willing to take this path voluntarily, the court is now imposing it. "
The legal issues in both cases are closely related: both depend on what it means to discriminate on the basis of sex.
The government took the view that discrimination against transgender people was not discrimination on the basis of sex, a view that has influenced policy not only in health care but also in employment, education and housing.
"H.H.S. has made a statement on this matter," wrote Judge Block, "but that position was effectively rejected by the Supreme Court."
A spokeswoman for the Bureau of Civil Rights said the bureau was disappointed with the verdict. The Justice Department arguing the case did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The ruling in question was intended to reinterpret a civil rights provision of the Affordable Care Act that prohibits discrimination in healthcare based on race, national origin, gender, age, or disability.
The meaning of these words to transgender patients has been the subject of litigation for years. A previous rule by the Obama administration would have required insurance companies to provide health insurers and medical care to transgender patients. Critics challenged this rule to produce mixed results in court. Several district courts upheld the policy, but a Fort Worth judge said the rule was invalid and issued a statewide order to block its enforcement.
Trump administration officials quickly discarded the original rule upon taking office, calling the Texas decision a different approach required.
But the legal landscape has changed since the Supreme Court employment case known as Bostock v Clayton County, Ga. Several legal experts predicted the case would most likely change the courts' approach to the health rule because the language in the affordable Care Act was so similar to the Workplace Discrimination Act at issue in Bostock.
Monday's verdict came from the Eastern District of New York, in a case involving Tanya Asapansa-Johnson Walker and Cecilia Gentili, two transgender women. Litigants have filed similar lawsuits in several other jurisdictions.
It was hailed by human rights organizations and democratic lawmakers who joined the case as litigators. In a statement, spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi called it “a win for the L.G.B.T.Q. Community and the rule of law. "
However, the order is not final. Judge Block will continue to read pleadings and hear arguments from both sides of the case before a final opinion is given. Appeals can still be made against any decision.