U.S. President Barack Obama holds a news conference at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, U.S. August 4, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst(reuters_tickers)
By Jon Herskovitz
FORT WORTH, Texas (Reuters) - Texas and a dozen other states plan to ask a U.S. judge in Fort Worth on Friday to halt Obama administration recommendations regarding bathroom access for transgender students, arguing they are unlawful "radical changes" being foisted on the nation.
The U.S. Justice Department in legal filings said the policies are recommendations that do not have the force of law, and the plaintiffs, including 13 states led by Texas, have no standing to request an injunction to suspend them.
The U.S. government's directive, issued in May, said public schools must allow transgender students to use bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity, as opposed to their birth gender, or face federal funding loss.
The policy added fuel to a national debate on transgender rights and enraged social conservatives who say federal civil rights protections encompass biological sex, not gender identity.
"Defendants have conspired to turn workplaces and educational settings across the country into laboratories for a massive social experiment, flouting the democratic process, and running roughshod over commonsense policies protecting children and basic privacy rights," said the complaint.
The other states are Alabama, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Tennessee, Arizona, Maine, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Utah, Georgia, Mississippi and Kentucky.
They say in a court filing the Obama administration, using thinly veiled threats and systematic inspections, has "quietly been in enforcement mode at a micro level, sowing the seeds for macro results."
The states argue they could lose billions of dollars in federal funds for education if they fail to comply. Ten other states have also sued over the guidelines, bringing the total to 23.
The U.S. Education and Justice Departments said in the letter sent to school districts nationwide that while its guidance carried no legal weight, they must not discriminate against students, including based on their gender identity.
"Plaintiffs have identified no enforcement action threatened or taken against them as a result of defendants' interpretations, nor have they established that the guidance documents have any binding legal effect," the U.S. Justice Department said in its filing ahead of Friday's hearing.
In North Carolina this month, a U.S. judge heard arguments to stop the state from enforcing a state law barring transgender people from using bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity in government buildings and public schools.
The state in March became the first to restrict access to publicly operated, single-sex restrooms and changing facilities to the gender on a birth certificate rather than the gender with which someone identifies.
(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Sandra Maler)