Cross-posted to Medium.

In a significant gender equality ruling, the Supreme Court today struck down a federal immigration law that made it harder for fathers than mothers to pass their U.S. citizenship on to their children. Current immigration law discriminates between citizen fathers and citizen mothers whose children are born abroad.

The Court recognized the rule’s connection to “the long-held view that unwed fathers care little about, indeed are strangers to, their children.” And it relied on the amicus brief of Population and Family Law Scholars submitted by Columbia Law School’s Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic to rebut that assumption and show that “unwed fathers assume responsibility for their children in numbers already large and notably increasing.” As Justice Ginsburg wrote in an opinion joined by five other members of the Court, “lump characterization” based on gender stereotypes “no longer passes equal protection inspection.”

The law at issue in the case, Sessions v. Morales-Santana, concerns children born outside the U.S. and outside of marriage, where one parent is a U.S. citizen and the other is not.  The challenged provision required unmarried U.S. citizen fathers to have spent ten years in the U.S. to pass along their citizenship to their children, while U.S. citizen mothers needed only a single year in the U.S. before the child’s birth to establish U.S. citizenship for their children.  (The law was later revised to reduce the residency time for fathers to five years, which is still five times longer than for mothers.)

Relying on national and international data, the Clinic’s brief argued that “the challenged law’s imposition of extra barriers on non-marital fathers’ passage of U.S. citizenship to their children—barriers that it does not place on non-marital mothers—appears to reflect flawed gender stereotypes about the likely involvement of unwed fathers in their children’s lives.”

Suzanne B. Goldberg, Herbert and Doris Wechsler Clinical Professor of Law and director of Columbia Law School’s Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic said, “This important new ruling strengthens the Court’s sex discrimination jurisprudence by rejecting gendered assumptions about mothers and fathers as factually flawed and plainly unconstitutional.”

The Court concluded its ruling by stating that although the usual remedy for discrimination of this kind is to end the inequality by extending the favorable rule, in this case the longer physical-presence requirement is more consistent with the surrounding law and will now be imposed on unmarried U.S. citizen mothers as it is on unmarried U.S. citizen fathers. The Court added that it is for Congress to adjust the rule uniformly for men and women if it chooses to do so in the future.

Columbia Law School student Samuel Rosh ’18 assisted with the brief, and Peter K. Stris, Elizabeth Rogers Brannen, Thomas Logan and Victor O’Connell of Stris & Maher served as co-counsel.

Call for Applications: Sabbatical Visitors, 2017-2018

Posted on April 17th, 2017 by Elizabeth Boylan

The Center for Gender and Sexuality Law at Columbia Law School invites applications for sabbatical visitors for the 2017-2018 academic year to undertake research, writing and collaboration with Center faculty and students in ways that span traditional academic disciplines. The CGSL welcomes applications from faculty from any field who are interested in spending a semester or the academic year in residence at Columbia Law School working on scholarly projects relating to Gender and/or Sexuality Law.

Sabbatical Visitors will receive an office with phone and computer, secretarial support and full access to university libraries, computer systems and recreational facilities. In addition, Sabbatical Visitors will be expected to participate in CGSL activities and present a paper at a program hosted by the Center for students, faculty and staff.

We will be accepting submissions through May 15, 2017.  We prefer electronic submissions, and request that all materials be sent by e-mail to

Applicants should submit:

* Curriculum vitae

* Writing sample

* Research statement (of approximately 1,000 words) that describes the proposed work during the Sabbatical period

* Names of two references who are familiar with your current academic research

If you have any questions regarding the visitor position or the application process, please call the Center for Gender & Sexuality Law at 212.854.0167.  You may also contact Liz Boylan, Assistant Director for the Center for Gender & Sexuality Law by e-mail to

A link to a posting regarding the sabbatical visitor position may be found on the CGSL website, here.

Cross-Posted on the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project Blog, and at Medium

Press Release:
March 29, 2017

Columbia Law School, The Public Rights Private Conscience Project

Proposed New York State Health Regulation Contains Troubling Exemption: The Public Rights/Private Conscience Project Responds to a Proposal on Abortion Access

Liz Boylan,, 212.854.0167


A proposed New York State regulation requiring insurance plans to cover “medically necessary” abortions contains a broad religious exemption that would undermine the state’s longstanding commitment to reproductive health. The exemption—which is not required by New York’s Constitution or laws— defines the term, “religious employers” to include large nonprofits and even some for-profit companies. In the face of a national movement to enact anti-LGBTQ and anti-choice religious exemptions, the regulation would set a harmful precedent by accommodating religion at the expense of other fundamental liberty and equality rights. On Monday, March 27th,  Elizabeth Reiner Platt, Director of Columbia Law School’s Public Rights/Private Conscience Project (PRPCP) submitted a comment on behalf of the PRPCP to the NYS Department of Financial Services “to express [] deep concerns regarding the regulations’ expansion of New York’s existing definition of religious employers.”

Noting that religious liberty is already robustly protected in New York, PRPCP’s comment states, “allowing an organization that operates in the public sphere to violate neutral employee health and benefit laws serves to reduce, not enhance, true religious pluralism.  This is especially true when such accommodations single out particular religious tenets, such as opposition to abortion, for special protection.”

“The proposed regulation would allow organizations to treat a medically necessary procedure overwhelmingly obtained by women differently than any other type of care,” said Elizabeth Reiner Platt. “Rather than surrender to the troubling trend of protecting particular religious beliefs at the expense of reproductive health, New York should continue to be a national leader in guaranteeing access to comprehensive health care.”

The PRPCP’s mission is to address contexts in which religious liberty rights conflict with or undermine fundamental rights to equality and liberty through academic legal analysis. PRPCP approaches the developing law of religion in a manner that respects the importance of religious liberty while recognizing the ways in which broad religious accommodations may violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

Read the full letter from the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project here:

Read the NYS Department of Financial Services Proposed Amendment here:

For more information on the PRPCP, visit the PRPCP’s webpage, here:

Press Release:
March 23, 2017

Columbia Law School, The Public Rights/Private Conscience Project

EEOC Proposed Guidance Shows We Can Protect Religious Freedom & LGBTQ Rights

Liz Boylan,, 212.854.0167

March 23, 2017: While the President and Congress consider acts to expand religious exemptions at the expense of LGBTQ and other rights, a proposed federal regulation demonstrates that we can—and should—protect both religious and LGBTQ communities. The Public Rights/Private Conscience Project (PRPCP) at Columbia Law School submitted commentary this week commending the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on their “Proposed Enforcement Guidance on Unlawful Harassment,” which protects the right of religious employees to discuss their beliefs while prohibiting religiously-motivated harassment in the workplace.

Professor Katherine Franke, Faculty Director for the PRPCP commented, “At a time when we are witnessing government officials engaging in both troubling violations of the Establishment Clause and blatant forms of religion-based discrimination, the EEOC’s proposed guidelines offer a reasoned and careful way to harmonize religious liberty and equality in the workplace.”

Elizabeth Reiner Platt, Director of the PRPCP elaborates, “The proposed guidelines respect both the right to express one’s religious beliefs and the right to a safe and productive work environment. This kind of carefully tailored religious accommodation protects all workers from discrimination.”

The PRPCP’s letter notes that nearly one in three transgender workers, and up to 43% of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people, have faced employment discrimination. The proposed EEOC guidelines “appropriately explain that Title VII’s duty to accommodate religion does not amount to an official sanctioning of religiously-motivated harassment-including against LGBTQ employees, who already face pervasive discrimination in the workplace.”

The EEOC’s responsibility to protect religious minorities and LGBTQ persons is of critical importance, as the Trump Administration continues to issue Executive Orders that roll back LGBTQ protections and express disapproval of Muslims. Of particular concern is a potential Executive Order on Religious Freedom. If signed, the order could provide a special license for those holding certain conservative religious beliefs— including opposition to same-sex marriage, sex outside different-sex marriage, and abortion—to violate any regulations that conflict with these beliefs.

The PRPCP’s mission is to address contexts in which religious liberty rights conflict with or undermine fundamental rights to equality and liberty through academic legal analysis.  PRPCP approaches the developing law of religion in a manner that respects the importance of religious liberty while recognizing the ways in which broad religious accommodations may violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, which, “not only forbids the government from establishing an official religion, but also prohibits government actions that unduly favor one religion over another.”[1]

Read the full letter from the PRPCP here:

For more information on the PRPCP, visit the PRPCP’s webpage, here:

The EEOC’s Proposed Enforcement Guidance on Unlawful Harassment is available here:



Cross-posted to Medium

The Organizers of the Women’s March on Washington made a call to action for women to strike on March 8th, 2017 in honor of International Women’s Day. The idea was to utilize this recognized day as a springboard for engagement through a wide-spread strike. The organizers’ language follows:

…we join together in making March 8th A Day Without a Woman, recognizing the enormous value that women of all backgrounds add to our socio-economic system — while receiving lower wages and experiencing greater inequities, vulnerability to discrimination, sexual harassment, and job insecurity. We recognize that trans and gender nonconforming people face heightened levels of discrimination, social oppression and political targeting. We believe in gender justice.

Anyone, anywhere, can join by making March 8th A Day Without a Woman, in one or all of the following ways:

1. Women take the day off, from paid and unpaid labor

2. Avoid shopping for one day (with exceptions for small, women- and minority-owned businesses).

3. Wear RED in solidarity with A Day Without A Woman”[1]

The systemic discrimination against and marginalization of women and gender minorities are at the root of these matters. Prior to the 20th Century, there were few options that women had for pursuing economic independence, and into the 21st Century women and gender minorities are greatly underrepresented in positions of authority in nearly all fields, and are underrepresented on the whole in many fields. Women and gender minorities’ unpaid labor is difficult to quantify: unpaid labor may describe caring for elder members of family and community, caring for and educating children. Unpaid labor also speaks to the number of women and transgender persons who perform uncompensated labor through internships and apprenticeships as a result of lack of access to paid work due to discrimination. The idea of on principle disengaging from unpaid labor is fraught with symbolism, and calls into question how we identify “work,” what it means to participate in work, and what visibility implies.

The reasoning behind the Women’s March on Washington organizers’ call to action is grounded in truths that need to be dissected further if they are to be used as foundational materials for a broad revolution. According to statistics published by Pew Research in 2016, Asian women earn $0.87 for every $1.00 that white men make; white women earn $0.82 for every $1.00 that white men earn; black women earn $0.65 cents for every $1.00 that white men earn, Hispanic women earn $0.58 for every $1.00 that white men earn.[2] In regards to the Women’s March organizers’ statement on trans and gender nonconforming persons’ inequity, per a July 2011 report from the Williams Institute, “78% of respondents to the largest survey of transgender people to date reported experiencing at least one form of harassment or mistreatment at work because of their gender identity; more specifically, 47% had been discriminated against in hiring, promotion, or job retention.”[3] The inequities between the pay that white women receive versus what women of color receive indicate the ways in which multiply marginalized persons experience exponentially greater levels of inequality, and the disproportionate rates of discrimination and mistreatment that transgender individuals face in the workplace are unconscionable. Movements for gender equity need to recognize and attend to fact that race, ethnicity, gender experience and expression and socioeconomic status overlap and compound the fight for justice. We cannot have a movement for gender justice that does not seek to dismantle these systems of power and inequality that divide us and prevent progress.

In multiple contexts, the ability to “take the day off” is heavy with the privilege it bears: It implies that a person can forego a day’s worth of pay, and will not personally suffer individual, collective, or economic violence as a result of their not engaging in work. It could be perceived, too, as an implication that if all women were to be absent from work today, that systems would not fail, people would receive life-saving health-care, and cities will not crumble into ruin: this indicates a critical devaluation of the work that women perform. The “ability” of persons to take the day off is an ableism that represents privileges that are at the core of critiques of White Feminism.

When organized as a large-scale movement or mobilization, a strike is a powerful tool against oppression that highlights how hegemonic systems are profoundly reliant on marginalized constituencies. In individual corporations, communities, and schools, a well-organized strike can result in enormous benefits for the strikers: new contracts are negotiated, demands are met, and progress is achieved for the marginalized group. Strikes, however, can also be devastating: people may be reprimanded, fined or fired for their absence; when the persons and systems that hold the power are unwilling to negotiate change. A strike, too, by particular members of a marginalized group without a collective agreement that all members strike may then result in the discriminatory policing of strikers who may concurrently be members of the group striking (in this case women), and other marginalized groups subject to greater scrutiny (communities of color, transgender/gender-non-conforming women, and women of lower socioeconomic classes). In theory, a large-scale strike by women and gender minorities would have a profound visual effect, but without a uniform plan of action, insurance for financial and/or job protection, and plan for pursuing recourse to end or following the strike, such an action will not be a successful counter-hegemony.

I question what it means when a person’s presence is meant to be more powerful by their conspicuous absence. A Day Without Women raises ideas of visibility and invisibility, and how these relate to women’s experiences and the value that women provide to systems economically, socially, and culturally. If women, as a whole, experience less prominence and visibility in the work place, and are valued less than male persons in the workplace, I question how their absence makes them more visible: while it may not make the individual more visible, it makes the work that they perform — which is on the whole, devalued — more visible. A coarse example might be what would happen if a municipality were to suspend trash pickups: citizens would be forced to see, smell, and otherwise confront the reality of work and workers that are unseen.

Direct action is visceral, and can have profound effects, but it needs to be a part of a larger and more complex dialogue and series of actions in pursuit of a visionary goal. Building a movement that is mission-driven, sustainable, and has specific outcomes requires persistence, complex and multidimensional organization, and visibility.




Columbia Law School’s Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic, on Behalf of NAACP LDF and AALDEF, Urges Supreme Court to Strike Down School Board’s Restroom Discrimination Against Transgender High School Students

In an amicus brief filed today with the U.S. Supreme Court by Columbia Law School’s Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic, two of the nation’s leading civil rights legal organizations, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, challenged a Virginia school board’s decision to exclude a high school student from the boys bathroom because he is transgender.

Gavin Grimm, the 17-year old plaintiff-respondent in the case, challenges a policy adopted by the Gloucester County, Virginia school board that forbids transgender students from using bathroom facilities consistent with their gender identity. The policy provides that use of boys and girls bathrooms in the school district “shall be limited to the corresponding biological genders, and students with gender identity issues shall be provided an alternative appropriate private facility.” Grimm won in the federal appeals court below, and the school board sought review in the nation’s high court.

The brief reviews a disturbing American history of rules enacted by state and local governments that physically separated one group of people from others based on unfounded fears and prejudices. These rules applied to bathrooms, swimming pools, recreational facilities, marriage, neighborhoods and workplaces, and are now understood to violate our most basic commitments to equal treatment under law.

Suzanne B. Goldberg, Herbert and Doris Wechsler Clinical Professor of Law and Director of Columbia Law School’s Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic said, “Discomfort and unfounded fears are never good reasons for rules that separate one group of people from others.” She added, “Our history shows that these kinds of rules are shameful violations of the American commitment to equal treatment under law. There is no exception to this equality commitment for those who would discriminate against transgender students.”

“The brief filed jointly today powerfully demonstrates that the demand for equality and justice and the arguments used frustrate those rights are drawn from a common well. LDF’s rich and unique history challenging discrimination in public accommodations provides a critical vantage point from which to analyze the exclusion of transgender persons. We are proud to work together with the Columbia Law School Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic and Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund in providing this essential context and perspective,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of LDF.

Kenneth Kimerling, Legal Director of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said: “The experience of Asian Americans in the United States is replete with acts of discrimination based on biased beliefs about Asians, from the Chinese Exclusion Act to the forced incarceration of Japanese Americans during the World War II, to present-day attacks on Asian Americans who are from countries with large Muslim populations. The treatment of transgender students by Gloucester County is just another example in a long American history of false fears leading to discriminatory acts.”

As the brief argues: “There is a lengthy and troubling history of state actors using public restrooms and similar shared spaces to sow division and instill subordination.” Drawing parallels between the safety and discomfort rationales offered by governments for racial separation in bathrooms and other settings, the brief adds: “This disreputable tradition of state and local governments enshrining fear or hostility toward a disfavored group of people into laws requiring their physical separation from others should encourage this Court to view with skepticism the rationales proffered by local officials here.”

The brief demonstrates this striking similarity between support for racially separate spaces and school board policy here: “[T]he bathroom-exclusion rule here fits within a troubling tradition of local and state governments justifying the physical separation of certain groups from others under the guise of providing protection or avoiding discomfort.” It explains, too, that both courts and society at large have rejected discrimination of this kind.

Co-counsel included Sherrilynn Ifill, Janai Nelson, Christina Swarns, Monique Lin-Luse, Deuel Ross, Coty Montag, and John Paul SchnapperCasteras of NAACP LDF, and Peter K. Stris, Elizabeth Rogers Brannen, Dana Berkowitz, and Victor O’Connell of Stris & Maher. Columbia Law SchoolColumbia Law School students Jordan Weatherwax ’18 and Princeton Hynes ’17 provided research for the brief.

Read the brief.

To Navigate Uneasy Times, Chart a Course with Thoughtful Analysis

Posted on February 1st, 2017 by Elizabeth Boylan

In these uneasy times, it is important that we as lawyers, activists, advocates and citizens seek out clear and factual information and analysis, so as to be able to navigate the waters of uncertainty. As members of the Columbia Law School community, we are grateful for a position where we can develop thoughtful discourse and pursue research that sheds light on these complicated issues.

Two memos from the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project (PRPCP), published on Monday, January 30th, offer thoughtful legal analysis on the proposed policies and recently signed Executive Orders of President Donald J. Trump. The PRPCP’s mission is to bring legal academic expertise to bear on the multiple contexts in which religious liberty rights conflict with or undermine other fundamental rights to equality and liberty.  The PRPCP is a research initiative within the Center for Gender & Sexuality Law at Columbia Law School.  Per the PRPCP’s mission statement, “We undertake approaches to the developing law of religion that both respects the importance of religious liberty and recognizes the ways in which too broad an accommodation of these rights threatens Establishment Clause violations and can unsettle a proper balance with other competing fundamental rights.”

The first of these memos, Church State & the Trump Administration reviews the policies proposed by the President during his campaign, his recent edicts and Executive Orders, and the policies supported by members of his cabinet both historically and currently.  In a press release for this memo, the PRPCP notes: “Despite his stated commitment to religious freedom, during his first week in office President Trump has issued an Executive Order that clearly expresses an official State preference for Christianity, and disapproval of Islam. Furthermore, Trump has consistently demonstrated that his policies will be grounded in the concerns of certain conservative Christian groups. His Executive Order reinstating a significantly expanded version of the anti-choice global gag rule, an expected Executive Order sanctioning anti-LGBTQ discrimination, and his selections for cabinet appointments all point to an administration that will seek to further particular religious ideals while breaking down the barrier between church and state.”  In response to President Trump’s campaign promises and his interactions with his support bases in the United States, Ashe McGovern, Associate Director for the PRPCP affirms, “Trump has made clear, through executive orders and cabinet appointments, that he seeks only to prioritize a version of white Christian nationalism and supremacy, that, if left unchecked, would create tangible harms to many marginalized communities—and violate fundamental liberty and equality guarantees under the Constitution”.  The PRPCP is committed to continuing the thoughtful analysis of the Trump Administration’s proposals, and have noted that the memo will be updated as the President and his cabinet take further actions over the next several weeks.

The second memo, Trump’s Executive Order Banning Refugees is Unconstitutional, focuses on President Trump’s Executive Order of January 27th on travel and immigration–the “Muslim Ban”–specifically noting how the text of the EO in direct violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.  The memo states, “The Executive Order amounts to both a form of state sponsored discrimination against persons of one particular faith and a religious preference for persons of another faith, in violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution.”

The memos, co-written by PRPCP Director Elizabeth Reiner Platt, Associate Directors Ashe McGovern and Kira C. Shepherd, with the support of Faculty Advisor Professor Katherine Franke, may be found at the PRPCP policy page.  Detailed blog posts regarding both analyses may be found on the PRPCP Blog.

The Women’s March on Washington | A Body in Motion

Posted on January 27th, 2017 by Elizabeth Boylan

Saturday, January 21st 2017 should be marked in history as a day when people came together with the purpose of uniting to support one another’s needs.  The Women’s March on Washington, an enormous event that catalyzed in the days and weeks following the election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States, is being extolled as the largest protest rally and march in history.

Faculty and staff from the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law marched in Washington, DC and New York, NY; Kira Shepherd and Ashe McGovern, Associate Directors for the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project marched in Philadelphia, and student activists from Columbia Law School raised funds to charter a bus so that Columbia Law School students could participate in the March in Washington, DC.

In the days following the Women’s March, there has been a lot of discourse as to what the march accomplished.  The march cannot be viewed as a means to an end, or as a single action.  What was accomplished in the day of the March itself is that people were rallied to the streets out of fear, pride, anger, and a desire for community and communion with others, who for various reasons, were compelled to do the same.  What was accomplished on the day of the March itself is that a diverse group of speakers took to stages in cities across the world to extoll the need for citizens to be civically engaged so as to oppose all forms of oppression and injustice.  What was accomplished is that people looked around themselves, listened to the voices around themselves, and felt themselves moving as a part of something much larger than themselves.

What was accomplished was, hopefully, the first page of the next chapter in the movement for justice and equality for women, trans and gender non-conforming persons, persons of all sexualities, racialized persons, ethnic minorities, religious minorities and members of first nations in the United States, persons of all genders and sexualities.  When we ask what the march accomplished, we need to ask what we are doing, each day, to embody the spirit of the march as expressed by the founders in their mission statement, “We stand together, recognizing that defending the most marginalized among us is defending all of us…. We support the advocacy and resistance movements that reflect our multiple and intersecting identities…. This march is the first step towards unifying our communities, grounded in new relationships, to create change from the grassroots level up.”[1]

On an individual level, I have faith that the march accomplished a note brought in the final sentence of the excerpt I quoted above – – that the march was the first step.  It is up to those who attended the March and its sibling marches in other cities, to those who organized the marches, and to those who witnessed (either in person or via media) the marches and found themselves inspired by them to take the next steps forward, and build momentum towards an inclusive movement for equality and equity.

Isaac Newton’s law of inertia states that a body “will remain at rest or in uniform motion in a straight line unless compelled to change its state by the action of an external force.”[2]  We, the people, were compelled to uniform motion on Saturday, January 21st, 2017, by the external force of an elected official who is aligned with parties and platforms that do not respect or advocate for the rights of all persons.  Though external forces may threaten our movement along our trajectory, so long as we stay in motion, we will remain in motion.

On an informal level, while we have a long way to go, I continue to be inspired by and mobilized to my own action by the words, actions, and work of my colleagues and the student leaders at Columbia Law School.  To all the movers and shakers that compel me out of inertia – – The Faculty and my colleagues at the Center for Gender & Sexuality Law, the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project, and the student leaders who chartered a bus so that Law Students could attend the March, I am grateful.




Professor Katherine Franke, in Washington, DC. Photo by Lisa Qiu.

The author (Right) with friends and family in Washington, DC.

Marchers in New York, NY. Photo by Suzanne Goldberg.

Marchers in Philadelphia, PA. Photo by Ashe McGovern.

Students in Washington, DC, bore a banner that read, “Columbia Law: Changing What We Cannot Accept”.


 1 comment  

Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic Files Amicus Brief in U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Supporting Challenge to Law That Blocks Restroom Access for Transgender Men and Women

Media Contact: Public Affairs, 212-854-2650 or

New York, October 25, 2016—North Carolina’s law that excludes transgender men and women from restrooms consistent with their gender identity fails constitutional review, Columbia Law School’s Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic argues in an amicus brief filed today with the Fourth Circuit federal appeals court.

The law, passed in March 2015, tells all in the state that they can only use restrooms that match the sex marker on their birth certificate, even if that marker is inconsistent with their gender identity.  It sparked immediate outcry from artists and business interests, prompting a boycott of the state for what many described as inhumane and discriminatory treatment of transgender people in the state.

Responding to a lawsuit by three transgender North Carolinians, all who study or work at University of North Carolina, a federal district court ordered the University to allow the three plaintiffs to use restrooms consistent with their gender identity.  The court found a violation of Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in educational programs and activities.

But the court refused to grant preliminary relief based on the plaintiffs’ claim that the law also violates their constitutional equality rights, declaring that because the law did not cause problems for most people, it seemed to serve the state’s important interest in privacy and could remain in force while the case proceeds.  The court wrote:  “[I]t seems unlikely that a law that classifies individuals with 99.7% accuracy is insufficient to survive intermediate scrutiny.”

The Clinic’s brief asks the appeals court to reverse this part of the ruling, arguing that the lower court misapplied the governing law.  “Equal protection jurisprudence and common sense both make clear that a constitutional violation does not become tolerable if its harms are isolated to a minority of the population,” it states.

“When a state imposes a severe burden on some in its population, like North Carolina does here to its transgender residents, there is cause for constitutional alarm,” said Suzanne B. Goldberg, Director of the Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic and Herbert and Doris Wechsler Clinical Professor of Law.  “A law that requires transgender men to use the women’s room and transgender women to use the men’s room puts these men and women at risk of harassment and physical danger.  The legal question is whether the state can justify this severe restriction based on its interest in preserving privacy – and the answer is that it cannot,” she added.

The plaintiffs in the case are represented by Lambda Legal, the ACLU, and Jenner & Block.

David J. Richards ’17 and Samuel Rosh ’18 assisted with the Clinic’s amicus brief.

Read the brief here:

Call for Research Assistant – The What We Know Project

Posted on October 6th, 2016 by Elizabeth Boylan


Dr. Nathaniel Frank, who runs Columbia Law School’s “What We Know Project,” is seeking a law/graduate student (or undergrad with strong research skills) for 5-10 hours of research assistance on an LGBTQ  health. The position is unpaid but with the possibility of future compensation. School credit could potentially be awarded for internships, independent study, etc.

View the project at

See more about Nathaniel at

Ideal skills include:

* Familiarity with, and interest in, LGBTQ issues and public policy research

* Strong research skills using online databases, Google, phone queries, etc.

* Understanding of a range of research citation formats (or ability to learn quickly)

* Good time management and follow-through

* Ability to read and digest quickly

* Attention to detail

Primary tasks include:

* Conducting article searches, aggregating abstracts, writing research briefs and some administrative work

Please send cover letter and CV to Nathaniel at



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