WASHINGTON, D.C. The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday agreed for the first time to rule on transgender protections. A Virginia public school district is fighting to prevent a female-born transgender high school student from using the boys bathroom. The case will be one of the biggest of the court’s term.The justices agreed to hear the Gloucester County School Board’s appeal of a lower court’s April 19 ruling that transgender students are protected under U.S. laws barring sex-based discrimination. The case involves a 17-year-old transgender student named Gavin Grimm, who is biologically female but identifies as male. Grimm is represented by the American Civil Liberties Union in the lawsuit.The death of Antonin Scalia raises the possibility of a 4-4 ruling along ideological lines that would leave in place the decision favoring Grimm by the Richmond-based 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. A 4-4 ruling would set no nationwide legal precedent.The issue of transgender persons and public restrooms has become the latest flashpoint in North Carolina since House Bill 2 was signed into law in March, requiring people to use bathrooms that corresponded to the sex listed on their birth certificate in government buildings and public schools. “This confirms what the governor has said for the past year that this issue, which is directly related to the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, will be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court,” said the office of Gov. Pat McCrory upon news that the court would take up the case. The law was in response to a Charlotte city ordinance that imposed penalties for businesses that didn’t allow individuals to use the bathroom of their choice. Supporters say the law protects women and children from predators who might abuse the ordinance to gain entrance to private facilities; opponents say it discriminates against transgender people.The ACLU filed a lawsuit against H.B. 2 on behalf of two students and a UNC employee. The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of N.C. imposed an injunction, but only for the three plaintiffs, until it can be heard in court in May 2017.The U.S. Supreme Court justices also announced Friday they will take on a North Carolina case of testing free speech rights in the digital age, agreeing to decide whether a state law banning convicted sex offenders from Facebook and similar sites violates the Constitution. The justices agreed to hear sex offender Lester Packingham’s appeal of his conviction for violating the state law in 2010 with a Facebook post.An intermediate appeals court threw out the conviction, saying it violated the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment guarantee of free speech. The state Supreme Court reversed that decision last November, ruling in part that Packingham’s free speech rights were not unduly burdened because there are ample other websites he could access. A group of First Amendment lawyers are arguing that social media sites are indispensable places for online speech.
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