Civil and Human Rights

Adams v. School Board of St. Johns County

In Adams v. School Board of St. Johns County, the Eleventh Circuit is considering whether the St. Johns County School District’s policy, which denies transgender students access to the restrooms consistent with their gender identity, violates the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection and Title IX’s prohibition of sex discrimination

Case Summary

Drew Adams is a transgender boy. He has a male name, his state-issued driver’s license identifies him as male, and his birth certificate currently lists him as male.  In public places, he uses the men’s restroom, and for his first six weeks as a ninth-grader he used the boys’ restroom at his school without incident.  Despite all this, and despite the absence of complaints from his male classmates, the St. Johns County School Board insisted that Drew may not under any circumstances use the same restrooms that other boys at his school use because he is transgender. Although school officials treated Drew as a boy for all other purposes, it required him to use the girls’ bathrooms or a single-stall gender-neutral bathroom, which he found insulting, humiliating, and stigmatizing. In short, rather than treat Adams and other transgender students with equal respect, the School Board enforced a policy that discriminated against them, shunting them away from their peers and marginalizing them.

In an effort to vindicate his rights, Adams filed suit against the School Board, asserting that the Board violated his rights under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court ruled in favor of Adams, and a three-judge panel for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed on appeal. At the School Board’s request, the Eleventh Circuit agreed to rehear the case en banc.

On November 23, 2021, CAC filed an amicus brief in support of Adams, arguing that the School Board’s policy violates Title IX, which broadly prohibits gender discrimination by governmental and private entities that accept federal financial assistance.

Under Title IX, gender discrimination is broadly prohibited in order to ensure that all persons are treated with equal dignity and given access to an educational environment where they can learn, thrive, and grow free from discrimination. By denying Adams access to the restroom used by other boys and stigmatizing him, the School Board transgressed Title IX’s mandate of gender equality.

We also argue that the fact that Title IX is legislation enacted pursuant to the Constitution’s Spending Clause is immaterial. Title IX, like many of our nation’s most cherished federal civil rights laws, is rooted in both Congress’s express constitutional powers set out in Article I and in the Fourteenth Amendment’s explicit grant of enforcement power, which gives Congress the power to ensure that state governments do not impinge on the Amendment’s promise of equality for all. Spending Clause concerns are at their lowest ebb when Congress is using its power to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment, as is the case with Title IX.

Lastly, our brief demonstrates that the School Board’s argument that Title IX does not provide fair notice that it prohibits discrimination against transgender students in the provision of restrooms is without merit. Congress chose to write Title IX as an all-encompassing prohibition on discrimination rather than a list of prohibited practices, making it clear that any sex-related discrimination is unlawful.

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