On Wednesday, the Department of Justice (DOJ) challenged SB1, a law passed in Tennessee banning hormones, puberty blockers, and sex change operations for transgender minors. The DoJ filed a complaint on April 26, 2023, arguing the law "denies necessary medical care to children based solely on who they are." The argument stretches any normative understanding of the definition of "medically necessary." Either that or the DoJ seeks to shift the lexicon to intentionally move the Overton Window on what medically necessary surgery actually is.
The complaint also cites the Fourteenth Amendment, lamenting that Tennessee allegedly denied minors equal protection rights. The Justice Department asked the court to issue an immediate order to prevent TN Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti, the TN Department of Health, members of the TN Board of Medical Examiners, and Logan Grant, Executive Director of the TN Health Facilities Commission, from enforcing the law which is set to go into effect on July 1, 2023. Notably, a judge in Missouri also temporarily paused bans on "gender-affirming" medical treatments for transgender minors on Wednesday.
The DoJ argues that SB1 discriminates against transgender youth because it "denies only transgender youth access to these forms of medically necessary care while allowing non-transgender minors access to the same or similar procedures." The argument seems to be a perversion of the language of the bill. The bill stipulates that healthcare providers may perform medical procedures on a minor if it is determined the child has an abnormality that is inconsistent with his sex at birth, in other words, a "congenital defect, disease or physical injury."
The Justice Department also states transgender youth are "especially vulnerable to serious risks of depression, anxiety, and suicide," which seems to be true. However, the argument also implies that life-altering and often dangerous medical treatments will end their misery.
Unfortunately, there is growing evidence that gender dysphoric individuals often experience "considerably higher risks for mortality, suicidal behavior, and psychiatric morbidity than the general population" after sex reassignment surgeries and puberty-blocking therapies.
This isn't the first time the DoJ has challenged states' rights to enact laws against medical treatments for transgender minors. In April 2022, the DoJ "preliminarily halted" the Alabama legislature from allowing significant provisions in SB184 from going into effect. The state wanted to make it a Class C felony to perform sex-altering surgeries on transgender minors.
Assistant Attorney General Clarke also wrote a letter to all state attorneys on March 31, 2022, reminding them of their duty to protect the rights of "transgender people," especially concerning the protection of transgender people who suffer "from discrimination in a wide range of federally-funded programs and activities." The letter also states that "it is well established within the medical community that gender-affirming care for transgender youth is not only appropriate but often necessary for their physical and mental health,—" citing an opinion in 2021 from United States District Judge James M. Moody in the Brandt v. Rutledge case.
The LGBTQI+ Working Group had a hand in the DoJ's decision to fight the TN law. The LGBTQ+ Working Group is part of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. The Group was established during the Obama administration and advises on legal and policy-related issues for the LGBTQ+ community. Attorney General Loretta Lynch was vocal in her support of the transgender community, as seen in this "CRT" slide show produced in 2016 by the Working Group.
TN Gov. Bill Lee pushed back against the DoJ in his statement to the Daily Wire this week. Lee called it "federal overreach at its worst."