Supreme Court intervened in lawsuit over Idaho’s gender-affirming ban. Now what happens?

Aside from two plaintiffs in a lawsuit, transgender minors in Idaho can no longer receive gender-affirming medical care as a result of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling Monday that allowed a state ban to go into effect.

The intervention Monday led by the court’s conservative majority was about a preliminary matter: whether to put on hold a district judge’s decision to prevent the ban from taking effect while the challenge to the law moved through the court system.

That lawsuit over Idaho’s ban on gender-affirming care is far from settled, and courts will grapple with the implications and constitutionality of the law in the coming months.

Idaho case background

After Gov. Brad Little signed House Bill 71 into law in April 2023, the ACLU of Idaho, Wrest Collective and others quickly filed a lawsuit on behalf of two transgender teenagers and their families, and argued that the law violated the equal protection rights of transgender youth and the due process rights of their parents. Both of those rights are derived from the U.S. Constitution.

The two teenagers, who are anonymous in the lawsuit, have taken puberty blockers and hormone treatments — medical interventions outlawed by Idaho’s law, which is called the Vulnerable Child Protection Act.

Federal District Judge Lynn Winmill, a Bill Clinton appointee, preliminarily ruled in favor of the two youths in December, pausing enforcement of the law days before it was scheduled to take effect. The state had argued against an injunction and said a complete pause of the law was too broad. A more limited injunction could have allowed enforcement of the law, save for the specific plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

Winmill decided to impose a temporary statewide injunction because, he wrote, he did not think it would be possible to keep the plaintiffs anonymous otherwise, and because a narrow injunction likely would result in many more similar lawsuits.

The judge also stated that the law was likely unconstitutional for its narrowed focus on LGBTQ+ people.

Idaho Attorney General Raul Labrador fought Winmill’s ruling, appealing up to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which twice denied his requests to overturn or change the injunction. The Republican attorney general then filed an emergency motion with the Supreme Court in February.

That’s what the justices addressed on Monday in an opinion that narrowed the injunction, with dissent from the court’s three liberal members. It now applies only to the two teenagers in the lawsuit, and medical providers who offer gender-affirming care to minors — including puberty blockers, hormone treatments and transition surgeries — could face felony charges and 10 years in prison.

Where does the case go from here?

The Supreme Court order will keep the law in effect until the 9th Circuit rules on the injunction this summer. The appeals court is scheduled to answer the question of whether Winmill’s statewide injunction was the correct and prudent course while the lawsuit proceeds.

That means that the 9th Circuit could reinstate Winmill’s statewide pause on the law, or it could endorse the narrowed injunction the Supreme Court enforced this week. It also could impose an altered version or even throw out the injunction entirely, which would allow the ban to be in place for everyone.

After the appeals court rules, the lawsuit likely will return to Boise, where the substance of the challenge will be litigated in earnest. The ACLU and Labrador will have opportunities to ask a judge to determine the constitutionality of the law or send it to a jury trial. It likely will be months, if not years, before a final resolution.