Lawsuit over Madison school district’s gender identity policy dismissed

Published: Jul. 10, 2023 at 6:19 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) – Following a rejection by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, the lawsuit challenging the Madison Metropolitan School District’s gender identity policy is over. The case was dismissed late last month after the woman behind it decided not to send her child to an MMSD school this coming year, court records show.

Because her child would no longer attend a school in the district, she lost standing to sue over the policy, the notice of voluntary dismissal explained. The case was originally filed on behalf of multiple parents challenging the policy, but the woman was the only plaintiff remaining, the conservative law group Wisconsin Law and Liberty (WILL), which assisted in the case, noted in a statement.

NBC15 News reached out to MMSD and will update this story with any response.

The state high court’s verdict did not reflect the arguments in the case. The plaintiff petitioned the justices to take the case directly bypassing the appellate process. In its May 19 decision, the court rejected their request and denied an associated request for a temporary injunction to block the district’s policies until the case was completely adjudicated.

In his concurrence of the ruling, Justice Brian Hagedorn explained the role of state’s judicial process typically relies on the lower courts to determine the facts, while the appellate and higher courts consider the determinations based on those facts.

While he acknowledged the state’s high court will occasionally take a case immediately, Hagedorn noted they do so rarely. He argued the high court taking original action on cases more frequently makes the judicial branch primary over the other branches of government and weighs on supreme court elections.

“It is no wonder our supreme court races are seen as high stakes affairs when this court is seen as willing – even eager – to dispense with standard procedures and forcefully insert itself into the latest hot-button political issues.”

The lawsuit, Doe V. MMSD, was filed in a Dane Co. Circuit Court in 2020 after MMSD adopted the policies, which allow children of any age to transition to a different gender identity at school without parental consent. A 35-page booklet of guidance and policies from MMSD outlines how its staff can show support for transgender, nonbinary and gender-expansive students.

WILL, along with conservative advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) alleged the new guidelines instructed employees to deceive parents about transitioning students. The lawsuit claimed the rules denied parents the right to make health decisions on their child’s behalf.

WILL’s Deputy Counsel Luke Berg pointed out the dismissal does not indicate they feel the policy is legal now and is only a result of the fact the plaintiff opted not to send her child to a school in the district.

“(I)n fact, no judge at any level has ever endorsed this policy, and three Wisconsin Supreme Court Justices have indicated that it violates parents’ constitutional rights,” he continued, adding the organization is considering where it will go from here.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which had joined the case on behalf of three gender and sexuality alliances at MMSD high schools, celebrated the decision with one attorney calling the dismissal a ‘welcoming conclusion’ to the lawsuit.

“We know that trans and nonbinary students are safer when they are able to choose when, how, and who to come out to, and we know that students feel happier and are better able to learn at school when they are affirmed in their gender identity,” ACLU senior staff attorney Jon W. Davidson said. “We recognize that, in many ways, it is a terrifying time to be a trans or nonbinary young person.”

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