Supreme Court declines to rule on hormone therapy for transgender inmates

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] denied certiorari [order list, PDF] Monday in Fields v. Smith [opinion, PDF; JURIST report], allowing a lower court decision that transgender hormone therapy is a medically necessary procedure to stand. The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit found the Inmate Sex-Change Prevention Act (Act 105) [text], a 2005 Wisconsin law, was unconstitutional under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. Act 105 barred prison doctors from providing inmates with hormone treatment or sex reassignment surgery, even if the inmate was already transitioning before incarceration. In Fields, the plaintiffs were three male-to-female transsexuals who had been diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder (GID), with prescriptions to receive hormone therapy and, ultimately, sex reassignment surgery. Lamda Legal [advocacy website], one of the parties to the suit, praised [press release] the Supreme Court's denial as a recognition of transgender rights:

There are particular moments in the movement for transgender equality when we consider it a great victory when a court refuses to hear a case—and today is one of those moments. ... Although the Fields v. Smith case does not mean that all transgender people in prison now have full access to transition-related care, it does send a clear message that medical care should be left in the hand of doctors, not legislators who may be operating on bias and misinformation about the medical needs of a marginalized population. Access to discrimination-free health care is a constant challenge for transgender people and people in prison are particularly vulnerable to limited care. Legislators, politicians and policy makers should not be in the business of making medical decisions. We all lose when politicians get to decide what course of treatment our doctors prescribe for us.
The questions presented [cert. petition, PDF] to the Supreme Court were: "(1) Whether the Seventh Circuit erred by upholding an injunction against a state law prohibiting the use of public funds to finance sexual reassignment surgery for inmates; and (2) whether the Eighth Amendment requires state prisons to treat gender identity disorder with hormone therapy to make an inmate look more like the opposite gender."

Last week, the Supreme Court also declined to rule [order list, PDF] in two high profile cases. In Alpha Delta Chi-Delta Chapter v. Reed [cert. petition, PDF], the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled [opinion; JURIST report] that a narrow nondiscrimination policy was constitutional and within the holding of Christian Legal Society v. Martinez [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report]. San Diego State University's nondiscrimination policy required student groups to allow membership despite a list of factors, including religion and sexual orientation. A number of Christian organization brought suit against the school for these prohibitions, suggesting that they would be forced to accept members contrary to their religious beliefs, thus impinging on their right to religion, right to free assembly and right to equal protection. In John Doe AP v. Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis [cert. petition, PDF], the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Eastern District barred a lawsuit [opinion] from proceeding against the Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis. The suit contended that the Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis should be found negligent for allegedly allowing pedophiles to remain in the priesthood and work closely with children. The Missouri Court of Appeals stated: "The Supreme Court has held questions of hiring, ordaining, and retaining clergy, necessarily involve interpretation of religious doctrine, policy, and administration, and such excessive entanglement between church and state has the effect of inhibiting religion, in violation of the First Amendment. Further, adjudicating the reasonableness of a church's supervision of a cleric—what the church 'should know'—requires inquiry into religious doctrine. Thus, Missouri courts have declined to recognize a cause of action for negligent failure to supervise clergy."

 

About Paper Chase

Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

© Copyright JURIST Legal News and Research Services, Inc., 2013.