Billings, Mont. (AP) — The Republican-run state Thursday just hours after a Montana judge blocked health officials from enforcing a state rule banning transgender people from changing the gender on their birth certificates. , said to disobey orders.
District Court Judge Michael Moses reprimands state attorney at hearing in Billings for evading April order to temporarily block 2021 Montana law making it harder to change birth certificates Did.
Moses said there was no doubt that state officials violated his previous order by creating new rules. It reinstated the Ministry of Health and Welfare rule, which allowed people to update the gender on their birth certificates by submitting an affidavit to the ministry.
However, the state said it would ignore the decision.
“The Justice Department has thoroughly evaluated the Judge’s ambiguous April 2022 decision and has produced a final rule to align with the decision. It’s disappointing that it doesn’t match,” said Charlie Bretton, director general of the Department of Public Health and Human Services.
Bretton said the agency is sticking to the rules it issued last week, and an agency spokeswoman said they were waiting to see a judge’s written order before considering next steps. .
ACLU attorney Marita Picasso expressed disappointment with the agency’s stance and said officials should begin processing birth certificate change requests immediately.
“It’s shocking that after this morning’s hearing, the authorities claimed there was a lack of clarity in the court’s ruling,” Picasso said. “It is very clear that Judge Moses explicitly called for a return to 2017 policy, and anything else is a continuation of a gross violation of the court’s order.”
Karl Tobias, a former professor at the University of Montana Law School and now at the University of Richmond, said it was highly unusual for a government agency to blatantly ignore a judge’s order. He said that if officials disagree with the verdict, the common response is to appeal to the High Court.
“Appeals are what you think, not that a judge’s order can be overruled, otherwise people would not follow the law,” Tobias said. “The system doesn’t work like that.”
The move could subject state officials to contempt of court charges and potentially jail time for violators, Tobias said. He added that the attorneys representing the state were likely aware of the potential consequences, but have been “caught in a dilemma” between the recalcitrant agency and the judge.
Legal controversy arises as conservative legislators in many states seek to restrict transgender rights, such as banning transgender girls from participating in sports in girls’ schools.
Montana law stipulated that one must undergo a “surgical procedure” before changing the gender on the birth certificate, but it did not specify what procedure was required, so Moses decided that this was unconstitutional.
The administration of Gov. Greg Gianforte has created new rules that completely block changes to birth certificates unless there is a clerical error.
Moses said at a Thursday morning hearing that his April verdict was “very clear” and that the state’s subsequent actions were the result of a third-time assault conviction. Later, it was compared with trying to change the name to avoid harsher punishment.
“Isn’t that exactly what happened here?” Moses asked. “I’m a little upset that the department thinks they can do whatever they want.”
Amelia Marquez, one of the plaintiffs in the case, said she was fed up with the state’s response.
“There are people who think they are above the law and don’t need to listen to the government’s judiciary,” she said.
After learning that the state was planning to defy the court’s order, Sean Rieger of the Montana Human Rights Network said the organization was “a vindictive advocate for the trans community, with the Gianforte administration’s blatant disregard for the verdict from the court.” “We are not going to stand by while the attacks continue,” he said.
Only Tennessee, Oklahoma, and West Virginia have outright bans on changing birth certificates, as does Montana, trans rights advocates say. The Idaho and Ohio bans were lifted in 2020.
Republican lawmakers who voted for the 2021 law suggested Moses had prejudices in favor of the plaintiffs in the case. Moses was appointed to the court by former Democratic Governor Steve Bullock .
Polson Senator Greg Hartz said in a statement, “Like clockwork, Judge Moses issued another predetermined order in favor of liberal plaintiffs without getting too thoroughly involved in the legal matter at hand. I put it out.
The Montana ACLU issued a statement to Moses a month after Moses issued a temporary injunction in the case after the state health department enacted a new temporary rule effectively banning alterations to birth certificates. to clarify his orders. That rule was made permanent last week.
The state argued that the injunction did not prevent the Department of Health from making the rule, but Moses said, based on case law, the injunction reinstated the 2017 rule and made other changes until the case was decided. said it was on hold.
State officials denied that the new rule banning changes to birth certificates was adopted in bad faith. Montana Assistant Attorney Kathleen Smithgall said the state came up with new rules to fill regulatory gaps after the 2021 law was blocked.
Kyler Nellison, spokesperson for Attorney General Austin Knudsen, said, “Judge Moses mischaracterized the language of his own order, the motives of the parties, and the state of the law.