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Supreme Court lets stand ruling that sides with transgender inmates

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“Surely, had the Wisconsin legislature passed a law that [Department of Corrections] inmates with cancer must be treated only with therapy and pain killers, this court would have no trouble concluding that the law was unconstitutional,” the Seventh Circuit said. “Refusing to provide effective treatment for a serious medical condition serves no valid penological purpose and amounts to torture,” the appeals court said.

Prison officials had expressed concern that providing hormone treatments that would help certain inmates in an all-male prison appear physically more like a woman might make that inmate a more likely target for sexual assault in prison. Men who receive female hormone treatments develop breasts and experience a redistribution of body fat.

The appeals court dismissed that concern, noting that transgender inmates already face a substantial risk of such assaults.

In her brief to the court, Assistant Wisconsin Attorney General Jody Schmelzer had asked the high court to determine whether the Eighth Amendment requires state prisons to treat “gender identity disorder” (GID) with hormone therapy.

Ms. Schmelzer also asked the court to examine whether the Seventh Circuit overstepped its authority in affirming an injunction invalidating the state’s ban on sex-change surgery for prison inmates.

“The court of appeals upheld the injunction as to a procedure that no one had requested, let alone shown was medically necessary to prevent a significant risk of serious harm,” Schmelzer wrote. “It is undisputed that none of the plaintiffs were deemed in need of surgery or even requested it.”

The Wisconsin Attorney General’s Office said the appeals court erred by analyzing the case as if gender identity disorder was a potentially fatal physical medical condition, like cancer, rather than a psychological condition.

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