Supreme Court remands North Carolina bathroom case to Fourth Circuit

March 06, 2017 | By TONY FRANCOIS

Several weeks ago we blogged about our amicus brief to the Supreme Court in the widely followed North Carolina bathroom case, about whether federal law determines which bathrooms transgender students may use. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled that instead of determining whether the applicable statute and regulations had the asserted effect, it must defer to an opinion letter issued by a minor bureaucrat in the federal Department of Education (which letter opined that federal law does dictate bathroom access in local schools).

The Supreme Court accepted the case in order to address whether such agency letters really bind federal judges in their interpretation of the law, and to address the underlying question: does federal law really dictate how local schools accommodate transgender students in providing restrooms? PLF’s amicus brief argued that judges must independently interpret federal law, and not allow executive agencies to impose legal interpretations on the courts by fiat.

The Trump Administration shook up the case a few weeks ago when it rescinded the opinion letter on which the Fourth Circuit relied. The Supreme Court then asked the parties for briefing on how the case should proceed, and both parties encouraged the Court to retain the case and answer the substantive legal question. But this morning the Court vacated the lower court judgment, and remanded the case to the Fourth Circuit for further proceedings in light of the withdrawal of the Department of Education opinion letter.