Court upholds Idaho law protecting children in school bathrooms

BOISE, ID – Last week, a federal judge upheld Idaho’s school bathroom law that requires public schools to provide separate bathrooms, locker rooms, showers, and dressing areas for boys and girls where students must use the facility corresponding to their assigned sex at birth. 

Idaho’s Chief U.S. District Judge David Nye had temporarily blocked the law from taking effect last August, but after hearing arguments in the case he ordered his injunction to expire within 21 days to give school districts time to designate the required facilities for students. The law will take effect November 2, 2023, while the legal challenge to the law proceeds to trial. Two Boise students filed the lawsuit alleging the law discriminated against gender-confused students.

Senate Bill 1100, which passed overwhelmingly in both Idaho’s legislative chambers, briefly took effect on July 1. The law also gives students the right to sue their school district if they encounter a person of the opposite sex while using a facility designated for their biological sex.

In his ruling, Judge Nye noted the case was a “difficult” one because the debate centered around Idaho’s most vulnerable population — children and youth. Judge Nye stated the issue involving SB 1100 boils down to “whether a student must, against his or her wishes, be forced to change (or undertake other private duties) in the presence of someone of the opposite sex.” Judge Nye was careful in his opinion to acknowledge the Court “must stay in its lane” by interpreting the law and not overstep into policymaking. He was also careful to balance the “interplay” between privacy and equal protection rights where protecting certain rights may impinge the perceived right of others.

Judge Nye wrote that the Court “can only decide whether the approach chosen by the Idaho Legislature is legal” and that SB 1100 was not crafted with “animus” towards gender-confused children to “relegate” them “to the fringes of society” even though some students will have to “change their routines” as a result of the Court’s decision. 

Rather, Judge Nye stated “S.B. 1100 was enacted to protect the privacy of the sexes. A policy or statute can lawfully classify based on biological sex without unlawfully discriminating based on transgender status.”

The ruling cited several appeals courts which have long recognized a “constitutional right to bodily privacy” and that the desire to shield one’s exposed nude body is driven by an “elementary self-respect and personal dignity.”

Judge Nye wrote, “…it does not take a court to acknowledge what most people inherently recognize: a desire for bodily privacy in restrooms (and like spaces) is rational because one’s body is private. That individuals generally desire privacy is based upon the inherent differences between male and female bodies.

The opinion noted that the “physical differences between men and women are enduring” and that the two biological sexes are not interchangeable. 

The Court stated, “This appreciation is even more relevant considering school-age children are still developing—mentally, physically, emotionally, and socially—and asking them to expose their bodies to students of the opposite sex (or to be exposed to the bodies of the opposite sex) brings heightened levels of stress.”

The Court concluded that the case against Idaho’s school bathroom law would “likely’ fail on its privacy and equal protection claims because SB 1100 legally distinguishes based on sex (not gender identity) and is directly related to the government’s interest in protecting the privacy and safety of students from the opposite sex during personal and private functions.

At least nine states have laws requiring public school students to use facilities that align to their biological sex (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Tennessee).

In January 2023, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 7-4 that a Florida public school district’s bathroom policy did not violate the equal protection law or the federal Title IX law because it also distinguished based on biological sex only and treated all students equally.

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “This is a commonsense decision by the District Court. The Idaho law is meant to protect children’s safety and privacy. It can be humiliating, demeaning and unsafe for children to be exposed to the opposite sex. Biology is fixed at birth, and children with gender confusion need counseling, not access to the private spaces of the opposite gender.” 

For more information about state laws protecting against gender ideology, visit Liberty Counsel’s website here.