ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
The Trump administration is reversing course when it comes to protecting transgender students in public schools. Civil rights groups are blasting the move, saying it exposes vulnerable students to bullying. With us now to talk about this news is NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. And Carrie, what did the administration do today?
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Well, it withdrew guidance the Obama administration put out last May, May 2016, that allowed transgender students to use bathrooms that aligned with their gender identity rather than the sex on their birth certificate. That guidance also allowed the students to join sports teams based on the gender they expressed. It's all grounded in an interpretation of Title IX, part of a 1972 education law. But Ari, the new letter from the Trump Justice Department and Education Department basically switches course and withdraws that interpretation of the law, says more study needs to happen on it.
SHAPIRO: Although, as the statement from the Education Department pointed out, this policy had been put on hold by a court. So does it actively change anything for students today?
JOHNSON: Well, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos says there are anti-discrimination laws on the books, and the Education Department is committed to enforcing them. Jeff Sessions, the new attorney general at the Justice Department, also says DOJ will continue to enforce anti-discrimination laws when it comes across violations. That said, Ari, this is a huge and important move for the LGBTQ community. In fact, there are people outside the White House tonight protesting this.
SHAPIRO: Why is the Trump administration doing this now, one month into the new presidency?
JOHNSON: For one thing, there's a legal deadline, a Supreme Court case that centers on this issue. More briefs in the case are due tomorrow. The court's preparing to hear oral argument next month. The thinking at the Justice Department was, don't make the court go through all these motions if there's going to be a big change coming.
SHAPIRO: President Trump has said he is determined to protect the rights of all Americans, including LGBT people. Does this clash with some of the statements he made during the campaign?
JOHNSON: Well, the president said transgender people should be able to use whatever bathroom they're comfortable with, but White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said today the federal government shouldn't dictate state policy.
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SEAN SPICER: I've made this clear, and the president's made it clear throughout the campaign that he is a firm believer in states' rights and that certain issues like this are not best dealt with at the federal level.
JOHNSON: And 13 states led by Texas did sue last year over the Obama interpretation. That particular case is likely to go away, but the controversy is going to continue.
SHAPIRO: You mentioned protests outside of the White House. What other reaction are we seeing tonight?
JOHNSON: A lot of concern among civil rights groups. They've been doing calls - advocacy calls. Here's Eliza Byard of the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network.
ELIZA BYARD: I find it obscene that Mr. Spicer would characterize the well-being, the health and the very safety of transgender young people as an issue of states' rights. The fact is that no child in America should have their rights subject to their ZIP code.
JOHNSON: And Byard and other civil rights advocates say the litigation has only just begun - lots more court cases to come.
SHAPIRO: What's the immediate next step?
JOHNSON: Well, as for the Supreme Court case that involves a 17-year-old transgender student in Virginia, it's not clear if this change makes the whole case go away. Lawyers for the student, Gavin Grimm, say the high court could send the issue back to lower courts for review, or it could go ahead and answer the central question. What does Title IX mean for trans kids and restrooms in schools?
SHAPIRO: NPR's Carrie Johnson - thanks a lot, Carrie.
JOHNSON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.