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Obama Transgender Bathroom Directive Blocked Temporarily By Judge

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

One of the most contentious issues facing this new school year is which bathrooms and locker rooms transgender students will be allowed to use. The Obama administration has issued what it calls guidance that students be allowed to use facilities consistent with their gender identity.

The administration warned that schools refusing to do that could risk their federal school funding. Now a Texas federal judge has temporarily blocked that policy in a case brought by 13 states. We're joined by Attorney General Scott Pruitt of Oklahoma, one of the states that requested the injunction. Good morning.

SCOTT PRUITT: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Why did Oklahoma join this suit?

PRUITT: Well, like many states across the country, we have Title IX funds that were at issue. We have funds that were used in the common school context, K through 12, as well as higher education.

And this guidance letter, as termed by the federal government - if there was no compliance by Oklahoma, those Title IX funds were at risk. And in Oklahoma, that's about 10 to 12 percent of our education funding. There was a substantial amount of revenue that was at issue in this case and put at risk that - for the state of Oklahoma.

MONTAGNE: And of course, Title IX, as many people know, is focused on access to education - best-known for sports promoting equality between the sexes.

PRUITT: It's actually tied to the Title VII, as well, the definitions of immutable characteristics. These were 1972 amendments that were offered by the U.S. Congress and signed by the president at that time.

And as you indicated, the federal government here took a term, sex, as defined in Title IX and Title VII and said that it was going to be reimagined, if you will - redefined to not be biological and anatomical but, rather, an internal sense of identity, which, frankly, could change day to day or week to week.

And I'm glad that you said, Renee, that it's more than bathrooms. There's been so much focus on the bathroom aspect of this significant guidance. It's more than that. It's locker rooms. It's participation in sporting events. It's housing on college campuses.

This is a significant, far-reaching decision that was made by the Justice Department and Department of Education. And I'm glad the court stepped in in Texas to assist the states with clarity.

MONTAGNE: Well, let me say the judge did rule on - with what your argument is - that the term sex in federal anti-discrimination law refers only to the difference between men and women - the sex as defined at birth.

Just briefly, the ruling does not say that school districts cannot follow that guidance. It just says they're not required to. Individual states should decide. What about Oklahoma? What do you think it would do? Do some districts plan to follow these guidelines?

PRUITT: Well, I think that - look, there are two things that the decision did in Texas. One, it said that the states and the federal government, particularly here, should've gone through rulemaking - that this is substantive in nature, that this wasn't guidance in the term of providing guidance to an existing rule.

This was a substantive change. And as such, the agencies at the federal level should've gone through notice and comment. And then secondly, the administration has said - and the Justice Department has said - that they were simply trying to provide clarity to the states across the country.

And the court disregarded that entirely and said, no, this causes confusion. And so to your question, I think that school districts across the country now have latitude and flexibility to make the decision - what's best for them at the local level.

And they're not confused about what's expected of them from the federal government but, rather, have clarity now that they don't have to follow the guidance because of the unlawfulness of the administration.

MONTAGNE: Well, thank you very much. That's Attorney General Scott Pruitt of Oklahoma. Thanks for joining us.

PRUITT: Thank you, Renee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.