The U.S. Supreme Court stepped into the dispute between a Virginia school board and a transgender student who identifies as a boy. In June, a federal district court in Virginia ordered the Gloucester County School Board to allow “G.G.” to use the boys’ bathroom at Gloucester High School until the case can be fully litigated. A federal appeals court turned down the school board’s request to halt the district court’s order, so the school board went to the Supreme Court, where it found more success: today the Court blocked the district court’s order while the school board seeks Supreme Court review of the dispute. Today’s action means that “G.G.” will not be able to use the boys’ bathroom when school resumes on September 6; it also suggests that four Justices – the number needed to review a case on the merits – could be willing to take the case on, possibly as soon as this fall.
The one-page ruling indicated that the district court’s order (as well as an earlier ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which hears appeals from federal district courts in Virginia) will at the very least remain on hold until the Court rules on the school board’s petition for review, which is due on August 29. If the Justices grant review, the district court’s order would remain on hold until the Court can hear oral arguments and issue its opinion.
The school board needed at least five of the Court’s eight Justices to vote to block the district court’s order. Three of the Court’s more liberal Justices – Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan – would have denied the board’s request. But Justice Stephen Breyer indicated that he had voted to grant the board’s application “as a courtesy” – a practice most commonly seen (at least in the past) in last-minute death penalty proceedings. Breyer noted that four of his colleagues – Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito – had voted to block the district court’s order temporarily, and he added that doing so would simply “preserve the status quo” until the Court can rule on the board’s petition for review.