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Texas Supreme Court Allows Investigation of Gender Transitions as Child Abuse

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Texas Capitol building | Image by Love's Apprentice

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The Texas Supreme Court unanimously voted to allow the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) to investigate parents and doctors who facilitate gender transitions in children. The court struck down a statewide injunction on Friday that had barred the agency from conducting investigations of that matter.

However, the court noted that neither Attorney General Ken Paxton nor Governor Greg Abbott had legal grounds to direct DFPS.

The court also ruled by a split decision that the Texas child welfare agency cannot continue its investigation into the family members who were the plaintiffs in the original suit filed against the state in March.

The case began after AG Paxton issued a non-binding opinion on February 18, stating that gender transitioning and transgender hormone usage is child abuse.

Abbott followed that opinion by issuing a February 22 directive for the DFPS to investigate all reported occurrences of such treatments against children.

DFPS responded to the order in a statement saying it would “follow Texas law [i]n accordance with Governor Abbott’s directive.” The agency proceeded to open at least nine investigations into parents of transgender children.

The anonymous parents of a gender-transitioning child filed the lawsuit against Abbott and DFPS Commissioner Jaime Masters, seeking to stop an investigation into their family.

Travis County District Court Judge Amy Clark Meachum heard the case. On March 11, she ordered the DFPS investigation into the family to be halted and blocked the agency from continuing investigations of that nature anywhere in the state.

Attorney General Paxton immediately appealed this order, superseding Meachum’s ruling. However, a lower appellate court reinstated the statewide injunction on March 21, preventing any DFPS investigations of that nature in Texas.

The Texas Supreme Court ruling affirms that DFPS is solely responsible for deciding whether investigations are aligned with current state regulations and cannot be directed by the AG or governor. The agency will now have to decide whether to continue these investigations and allow new ones to be opened.

“The Governor and the Attorney General were certainly well within their rights to state their legal and policy views on this topic, but DFPS was not compelled by law to follow them,” Friday’s ruling reads. “DFPS’s press statement, however, suggests that DFPS may have considered itself bound by either the Governor’s letter, the Attorney General’s Opinion, or both. Again, nothing before this Court supports the notion that DFPS is so bound.”

The court did agree that the lower appellate court did not have the authority to issue a statewide injunction.

“Just as the Governor lacks authority to issue a binding ‘directive’ to DFPS, the court of appeals lacks authority to afford statewide relief to nonparties. The court of appeals abused its discretion by using Rule 29.3 to issue a statewide order,” the Supreme Court wrote.

Both sides on the issue have embraced the aspects of the rulings that favor them.

Ian Pittman, an Austin attorney representing two families of transgender children that are under investigation for child abuse, said the injunction had allowed his clients to “breathe a sigh of relief.”

“This ruling reaffirms that [DFPS Commissioner Jaime Masters] acted improperly when she acknowledged the directive and said they would follow it,” he told the Texas Tribune. “She was abdicating her responsibilities as commissioner to a political stunt that has no legal authority.”

Although the investigations can resume, Pittman is optimistic that DFPS will now close out the remaining cases. If DFPS does not close out the cases, he expects other families will file lawsuits to block similar investigations.

Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas issued a joint statement calling the judgment “a win for [their] clients and the rule of law.”

“The Texas Supreme Court made clear that the attorney general and governor do not have the authority to order DFPS to take any action against families that support their children by providing them with the highest standards of medical care,” the statement says.

Paxton responded to the decision by tweeting that he had “secured a win for families against the gender ideology of doctors, big pharma, clinics trying to ‘trans’ confused, innocent children.”

“‘Transing’ kids through surgery/drugs is abuse & I’ll do all I can to stop it,” he added.

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6 months ago

A female friend of mine was “confused” in middle school and thought she wanted to be a boy. However, in high school she decided she liked being female. She has been happily married for over 20 years. How grateful that her family did not try to transgend her as a child!