Montana Judge: State's Transgender Sports Law Unconstitutional | Athletic Business

Montana Judge: State's Transgender Sports Law Unconstitutional

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Among three laws deemed unconstitutional last week by a Montana state judge is one that sought to ban transgender women from participating on female collegiate sports teams.

As reported by The Associated Press, Montana’s Constitution gives the state board of regents full authority to govern public college campuses and precludes state lawmakers from imposing their own rules, District Court judge Rienne McElyea said in a ruling issued Wednesday that was emailed to attorneys in the case on Friday. Her ruling noted that the Montana Supreme Court recently affirmed the same conclusion in a challenge to a bill that sought to allow more people to carry guns on campuses.

The ruling is the second judicial setback of the week on laws passed by Montana's 2021 Legislature that affected transgender residents. A different state judge on Thursday clarified that he temporarily blocked health officials from enforcing a state rule that would prevent transgender people from changing the gender on their birth certificate. In response, the Republican-run state on Thursday said it would defy the order.

The ruling comes amid a heated national debate over whether transgender women should be allowed to participate in female sports at the high school and collegiate level.

At least 12 Republican-led states have passed laws banning transgender women or girls in sports based on the premise that it gives them an unfair competitive advantage. Transgender rights advocates counter that the rules aren’t just about sports, but another way to demean and attack transgender people.

Former members of the state board of regents, a former commissioner of higher education and others challenged the Montana laws in May 2021 — not specifically because of their content, but to clarify that the regents, not the Legislature, have the authority to set campus policies.

It’s not believed that the transgender women’s sports bill affected anyone’s athletic participation while it was in effect, said Jeff Tierney, an attorney for the plaintiffs, which included the Montana Federation of Public Employees, a union whose members include higher education employees.

“The Legislature needs to stay in its lane," said Amanda Curtiss, president of the union, as reported by the AP.

Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen, a Republican whose office was defending the law, is reviewing the ruling to determine the administration's next steps, said Emilee Cantrell, a spokesperson for the office.

“The courts have once again taken authority from Montanans — exercised through their elected legislators — over the campuses their tax dollars fund and given more power to unelected campus administrators,” Cantrell said in a statement.

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