May 4, 2015 at 9:48 am EDT | by Chris Johnson
Supreme Court declines to hear new LGBT-related cases
Supreme Court, gay news, Washington Blade

The U.S. Supreme Court announced its decisions for its Friday conference. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The U.S. Supreme Court announced on Monday it won’t take up new cases related to LGBT rights: one a challenge to a state ban on “ex-gay” therapy, the other a lawsuit seeking gender reassignment surgery for a transgender inmate.

In an order list on Monday, the court announced it denied certiorari, or refused to take up, both the cases as part of long list of litigation it has declined to hear.

The order list reflects decisions the court made during its conference on Friday when it was set to consider whether to grant certiorari in two cases. The vote tally isn’t recorded, but the court’s indication that it declined certiorari means at least four votes weren’t present on the bench to agree to take up the cases.

The certiorari denials are both a win and a loss for LGBT advocates. The lawsuit related to widely discredited conversion therapy was seeking to diminish LGBT rights, but the lawsuit related to the transgender inmate was seeking to advance them.

The lawsuit related to “ex-gay” therapy was King v. Christie, a challenge filed by the anti-gay Liberty Counsel against New Jersey’s prohibition on conversion therapy to minors, which was signed into law by Gov. Chris Christie. The U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the constitutionality of the statute, prompting a petition before the Supreme Court.

Andrea Bowen, executive director of Garden State Equality, said the decision to deny certiorari in the case demonstrates the value of New Jersey’s ban on “ex-gay” therapy to minors.

“This is just confirmation that the horrifying practice known as ‘conversion therapy’ is the kind of junk science that we can condemn to the history books,” Bowen said. “Thanks to brave legislators like New Jersey’s Tim Eustace, who introduced the bill, thanks to the attorneys who defended the law, and thanks to smart judges, precedent is set to protect minors from a discredited, brutal practice.”

The litigation related to transgender rights was Kosilek v. O’Brien, a lawsuit filed by the New England-based Gay & Lesbian Advocates Defenders challenging the Massachusetts Department of Corrections’ decision to withhold gender reassignment surgery to Michelle Kosilek, a transgender inmate who’s incarcerated for the murder of her spouse. The U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals in an “en banc” ruling affirmed the state’s ability to deny her the procedure.

Jennifer Levi, director of GLAD’s transgender rights, expressed disappointment the Supreme Court won’t review the First Circuit decision.

“This is a terrible and inhumane result for Michelle,” Levi said. “But it is just a matter of time before some prison somewhere is required to provide essential surgery, meeting the minimal Constitutional obligations of adequate medical care for transgender people in prison.”

The denial of certiorari effectively is the end of the road for this litigation, so the circuit court rulings will be the final word on the issues — unless related lawsuits reach the Supreme Court at a later time.

But the Supreme Court isn’t done acting on LGBT rights during its 2014-2015 term. Last week, it heard oral arguments in litigation seeking marriage rights for same-sex couples across the country. A decision is expected before the current term ends at the end of June.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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