“I intend, as soon as possible, to join the lawsuit against this latest example of federal overreach,” Bryant said in a statement.
The lawsuit focuses on a letter released this month by the Justice Department and the Education Department telling schools that Title IX, which prohibits sexual discrimination at educational facilities that receive federal funding, covers how these schools treat transgender students.
Although this guidance was embraced by some and described by federal officials as a needed action to protect civil rights, others — including numerous high-profile conservative officials — pushed back against the directive. Paxton and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) quickly vowed to fight, assailing it as overreach.
The federal lawsuit filed Wednesday in a U.S. District Court states that the guidance in this letter “has no basis in law” and argues that authorities are “flouting the democratic process.”
Bryant has previously criticized the bathroom guidance, which he called “outrageous” and a “social experiment.” Mississippi’s governor said this week that going along with this guidance would be “harmful to school children and damaging to the process of educating them.”
However, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, a Democrat, says he has decided not to join the lawsuit, so Bryant will be joining on behalf of the governor’s office. (Similarly, Maine’s Republican governor has joined the lawsuit, while the office of that state’s Democratic attorney general said it is not involved in the suit.)
Hood said he had already filed a brief in a different case focusing on bathroom access, arguing that an appeals court should defer to a local school board’s judgment in Virginia regarding the issue. (A three-judge panel of that appeals court said last month the case could proceed.)
While Hood said the Obama administration’s bathroom guidance “created a public furor,” he has opted not to join Texas due to the brief filed in the other case as well as what he described in a statement as “concerns on issues of standing in the Texas case because no money has been withheld from a school.” He also said he has “a different legal opinion” about how the Supreme Court will ultimately rule on the issue.
Bryant’s push to join this lawsuit comes as the state approaches the date when a controversial law of its own will take effect.
Last month, Bryant signed a law allowing businesses to refuse service to gay couples based on religious objections. This law stated that it protected “sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions,” included among them the belief that marriage is limited to unions between a man and a woman.
The law Bryant signed also says that it protects the belief that a person’s gender is “determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth” and goes on to say that businesses can determine who is allowed to access bathrooms, dressing rooms and locker rooms.
Under this law, set to take effect July 1, the state would be barred from taking action against certain businesses that set up policies governing access to bathrooms or locker rooms “in a manner consistent with a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction.” The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit this month challenging the law.
Texas has already been joined in its lawsuit fighting the transgender bathroom guidance by Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin, as well as the Arizona Department of Education, Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R), and school districts in Texas and Arizona.
The Justice Department, one of four agencies named in the suit, said in a statement Wednesday that “the federal government has strong legal foundations to uphold the civil rights of transgender Americans.”
This story, first published on Thursday, has been updated.