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Republican attorneys general from more than 20 states are suing the Biden administration over a new Department of Agriculture guidance prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation.
The lawsuit was filed in the Eastern District of Tennessee and is being led by Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery, who has claimed that the federal government is infringing upon states’ ability to enact laws that discriminate against LGBTQ+ people by threatening to revoke federal funding for US Department of Agriculture nutrition programmes like school lunch.
Mr Slatery and his fellow attorneys general have reason to believe that their challenge may be successful.
Earlier this year, a similar group of Republican officials sued the Biden administration over a pair of directives it issued to extend protections for LGBTQ+ people in schools and at workplaces and were emboldened when a judge temporarily blocked the involved federal agencies from enforcing the directives.
“I’m not going to stand by and let the Biden administration hold school lunches hostage over radical ideology,” South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson said in a statement reported by WMBF. “This administration continues to try to redefine its role, but no matter what they want to do, this administration can’t redefine its executive power defined in the Constitution. The fact remains that the president did not follow the law in trying to implement this.”
The battle between the Biden administration and Republican-controlled states over protections for LGBTQ+ residents has intensified over the last year in a national climate that has seen a record-setting wave of anti-transgender legislation and a suggestion from Justice Clarence Thomas that the Supreme Court should reconsider its landmark ruling legalising gay marraige.
It was a Supreme Court decision that set the table for the Biden administration’s attempts to expand federal protections for LGBTQ+ students and workers. In 2020, the Court ruled 6-3 that LGBTQ+ employees are protected under the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
In May, the Department of Agriculture (UDSA) issued a guidance to states announcing that it would begin considering discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual discrimination a violation of Title IX, the law that guarantees gender equity in education programmes reciving federal funding.
That includes the national school lunch programme, which feeds millions of children in states across the country daily. Under the USDA’s current interpretation of Title IX, states found to be discriminating against students on the basis of gender or sexual orientation — in the realm of youth sports, for instance — could potentially stand to be stripped of funding.
The USDA has said that it wants voluntary compliance with the law and has not directly threatened to strip funding from noncompliant states, but it has also said that it will forward cases of noncompliance to the US Justice Department for review.
The attorneys general who have joined the lawsuit believe that the USDA’s position constitutes federal government overreach. All come from states that Donald Trump carried in the 2020 presidential election, with the exception of Arizona, Georgia, and Virginia.