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Appeals Court Temporarily Reinstates TN Law Protecting Minors from Transgender Procedures

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A federal court of appeals has ruled in favor of Tennessee's law protecting minors from irreversible "gender transition" surgeries and hormone treatments. 

On Saturday, the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted an emergency appeal to the state, handing down a 2-1 decision reversing a district court's decision that blocked large parts of the law from taking effect statewide. The Sixth Circuit covers Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee, and Kentucky.

Judge Eli Richardson of the Middle District of Tennessee blocked portions of the law on June 28 after it was challenged by three gender-dysphoric minors, their parents, and a doctor. The judge said the challengers lacked standing, but ruled the law was unconstitutional because it discriminated on the basis of sex.

However, the appeals court's majority wrote in their ruling that decisions on emerging policy issues like transgender care are generally better left to legislatures rather than judges.

"Given the high stakes of these nascent policy deliberations — the long-term health of children facing gender dysphoria — sound government usually benefits from more rather than less debate," wrote Chief Judge Jeffrey Sutton, an appointee of former President George W. Bush.

slider img 2The ruling allows Tennessee's law to remain in effect while the lawsuit proceeds through the legal system. But the justices also noted, "All told, the challengers lack a 'clear showing' that they will succeed on the merits."

"As for the public interest, Tennessee's interests in applying the law to its residents and in being permitted to protect its children from health risks weigh heavily in favor of the State at this juncture," the justices wrote. 

The ruling is preliminary and remains in force only until the appeals court conducts a full review of the appeal. Sutton wrote that the appeal process will be expedited, with a goal of resolving the case by Sept. 30.

Tennessee Republican Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti, praised the ruling in a statement, saying the ban can now be fully enforced. 

"The case is far from over, but this is a big win. The court of appeals lifted the injunction, meaning the law can be fully enforced, and recognized that Tennessee is likely to win the constitutional argument and the case," Skrmetti said. 

In response to the Sixth Circuit Court's decision, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins tweeted, "Progress! This court decision is the first time a federal appeals court has allowed a state law prohibiting harmful gender transition procedures on minors to go into effect. 20 states have passed some type of SAFE Act legislation to protect kids; 7 states currently have laws in effect."

"The Sixth Circuit's opinion was a declaration of judicial restraint," Family Action Council of Tennessee President David Fowler said in a statement to The Washington Stand. "It held that the Court does not have the power to make 'law' for everyone in a state, a constitutionally justified and refreshing departure from what federal district judges now do so often."

Judge Amul Thapar, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, joined White's ruling. A third judge, Helene White, dissented in part and concurred in part.

White — who was first nominated by former President Bill Clinton and later nominated by Bush — ruled that she believes the Tennessee law is likely unconstitutional, but said she would not have applied her ruling statewide, as the district court did. She said she would have limited her ruling to apply only to the nine plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit and to the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, where some of the plaintiffs had sought such procedures.

"However, I agree that the district court abused its discretion in granting a statewide preliminary injunction," she wrote. 

Gillian Branstetter, a spokesperson with the American Civil Liberties Union, said the Sixth Circuit is the first federal circuit to allow a ban on gender transition surgeries and treatments for minors to go into effect. 

"This fight is far from over and we will continue to challenge this law until it is permanently defeated," the ACLU, its Tennessee chapter, and two law firms said in a joint statement.

The Biden administration has also filed its own challenge to the Tennessee law.

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As CBN News reported in March, the law known as the Protecting Children from Gender Mutilation Act was signed by Republican Governor Bill Lee. 

The law puts several measures into place. It forbids transgender surgeries on minors and prohibits doctors from prescribing puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones to anyone under the age of 18.  

The law does offer exceptions, including allowing doctors to continue the patient's medical procedures if they began prior to July 1, 2023, when the ban was scheduled to take effect. The bill says the treatment must end by March 31, 2024.

The measure also allows the state attorney general to investigate healthcare providers who violate the statute, which carries a $25,000 penalty.

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About The Author

Steve Warren is a senior multimedia producer for CBN News. Warren has worked in the news departments of television stations and cable networks across the country. In addition, he also worked as a producer-director in television production and on-air promotion. A Civil War historian, he authored the book The Second Battle of Cabin Creek: Brilliant Victory. It was the companion book to the television documentary titled Last Raid at Cabin Creek currently streaming on Amazon Prime. He holds an M.A. in Journalism from the University of Oklahoma and a B.A. in Communication from the University of