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Supreme Court lets stand ruling that sides with transgender inmates

A Wisconsin law barring state funding for hormone treatments or sex-change operations for transgender prisoners was struck down, a ruling upheld on appeal. The Supreme Court declined the case. 

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The US Supreme Court declined Monday to take up a case examining whether transgender prison inmates enjoy a constitutional right to government-funded sex change operations and hormone therapy.

The action leaves undisturbed a federal appeals court decision siding with transgender inmates in Wisconsin.  

Concerned about the use of state funding for ongoing hormone treatments that help certain male inmates look more female, lawmakers in Wisconsin passed the Inmate Sex Change Prevention Act. The law barred the use of any state funds for hormone treatments and/or sexual reassignment surgery.

Three Wisconsin inmates filed a class-action lawsuit. After a trial a federal judge struck down the 2006 law as a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. A panel of the Chicago-based Seventh US Circuit Court of Appeals agreed.

The appeals court noted that the Eighth Amendment requires state governments to provide medically-necessary treatment to inmates in their prison populations.

Prior to passage of the Inmate Sex Change Prevention Act, medical personnel in the Wisconsin prison system had determined that hormone therapy was medically necessary for the three inmates. As a consequence of the new law, this treatment was discontinued.

The appeals court did not rule that prison officials are required to provide hormone therapy or sex change operations, only that such treatments must be available to inmates if the prison’s own medical personnel determine they are medically necessary.

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