Top Arizona Republicans ask to defend trans athlete ban in court
GOP leaders are hoping to defend Arizona’s trans athlete ban, which they helped pass, after the attorney general refused to do so.
Last month, two trans athletes and their families filed a lawsuit seeking to nullify a 2022 law that bars them from joining school sports teams consistent with their gender identity. In the lawsuit, the 11- and 15-year-old girls argued that the ban infringes on multiple federal protections, including the Fourteenth Amendment, the Title IX Education Amendments of 1972 and the Americans with Disabilities Act, all of which guarantee freedom from discrimination.
On Monday, legislative leaders moved to back that law in Attorney General Kris Mayes’ absence. Mayes has informed state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne, who is also a defendant in the lawsuit, that she is “disqualified” from defending the law in court, according to the brief filed by Senate President Warren Petersen and House Speaker Ben Toma.
A spokesperson for the attorney general’s office did not respond to a request for comment on what that might mean, only confirming that she won’t be involved in the challenge.
In a statement, Petersen touted the law as a necessary protection for Arizona women, calling it “unjust” for people to support trans student athletes.
“Senate and House Republicans stand in solidarity to protect women and girls from the injustices being attempted against them by the extreme left,” he said. “Female athletes deserve equal opportunities in sporting events, which will not happen so long as males are allowed to compete against them.”
Trans people, and women in particular, have been repeatedly singled out by Republican politicians in recent years, as the party has weaponized biological essentialism to push discriminatory legislation and appeal to the fringe. Sports has become a flashpoint in the debate despite the fact that trans athletes are in the extreme minority: The Arizona Interscholastic Association’s Sports Advisory Committee, which governs high school sports across the state, has fielded only 16 appeals from transgender students since 2017 out of the 280 member schools and roughly 170,000 students it oversees.
Petersen said trans girls have male biology, which gives them greater height, muscle and bone structure formation and leaves them with clear advantages over girl athletes. That argument, however, is likely to face a rebuttal in court, with the two plaintiffs in the lawsuit having previously noted that they have yet to undergo male puberty and are thus physically on par with other girls. One of the two, in fact, stated that she has been taking puberty blockers and hormone therapy for years to ensure she doesn’t enter male puberty.
Attorneys for Petersen and Toma wrote that their intervention is imperative, because they are best situated to defend the 2022 law. Horne, they point out, has yet to file a response despite a rapidly approaching deadline and, if he fails to do so, the law will be left without support. Even if Horne succeeds, they add, Petersen and Toma still contribute a unique legislative perspective. Both lawmakers voted for the underlying bill last year, and Petersen also co-sponsored the measure.
“If the Speaker and President are not allowed to intervene, they will not be able to exercise their statutory right to mount a defense, and the duly enacted laws challenged here may receive no adequate defense, or even no defense at all,” reads the brief.
This isn’t the first time the legislative leaders have asked the court to let them take sides in a lawsuit. The two won permission to intervene in a lawsuit against 2021 abortion laws earlier this year, as well as in a challenge to President Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for federal contractors — both cases in which Mayes refused to take up the mantle of her predecessor, Republican Mark Brnovich.
This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.