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Supreme Court Drops Transgender Teen's Challenge To School Bathroom Policy

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The U.S. Supreme Court said today it would not hear a case this term that tests the rights of transgender students at schools that receive federal money. Oral arguments had been scheduled to begin later this month, but the justices sent the case back to the lower courts to reconsider in light of recent guidance from the Trump administration. NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg reports.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: The case of Gavin Grimm versus the Gloucester County, Va., School Board was to have been the first test of transgender rights in the Supreme Court. Grimm, now 17, was born female, but identifies as male and has been taking male hormones to transition his gender. After conferring with the school principal, he began using the stalls in the male restrooms. Two months later, the school board voted to require students to use the bathroom matching their sex at birth.

Grimm challenged the rule in court claiming it violated a federal law banning discrimination based on gender in public schools. A federal appeals court based in Richmond ruled in Grimm's favor, but based its ruling largely on deference to the government's interpretation of the anti-discrimination law, namely the Obama administration's directive advising schools that the law applied to transgender students and their desire to use bathrooms based on their gender identity and not their biological sex at birth.

Less than two weeks ago, however, the Trump administration withdrew that directive. That had an immediate ripple effect on the Virginia case because it meant that the Supreme Court was about to review a lower court ruling that depended on federal guidance that no longer exists. So the justices sent the case back to the lower courts for a new and independent look at how to interpret the anti-discrimination law. The justices are loath to rule on issues, especially highly controversial ones, that have not been fully explored by the lower courts.

It's expected the issue will make its way back to the Supreme Court eventually. Similar cases are pending in other states. Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.