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Former Connecticut high school athletes urge appeals court to revive their challenge to state’s trans-inclusive sports policy

CNN 3/23/2023 Devan Cole

Four cisgender women from Connecticut are urging a federal appeals court to give them another shot at their challenge to the state’s trans-inclusive sports policy after it agreed earlier this year to reconsider whether the former high school athletes had the legal right to bring the suit.

A three-judge panel of the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals had thrown the case out in December, agreeing with a district court’s ruling that the challengers lacked the procedural threshold – known as standing – needed to bring the suit. But the full court of over a dozen members is now set to hear an appeal.

The plaintiffs in the Connecticut case – all of whom have now graduated from high school – are not asking the appeals court to say the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference’s policy is unlawful. Instead, they’re trying to get a chance to bring their suit in the first place.

The plaintiffs claim they were put at an athletic disadvantage because they had to compete against two trans athletes in the state as a result of the CIAC policy.

If the appeals court says they have standing in the matter, they’ll be able to bring their suit back to the district court so that they can again ask the court to change their athletic records to their liking.

Conservatives have in recent years seized on the case as they’ve pushed state bills seeking to prohibit trans girls and women from competing on teams that match their gender identity. And the rehearing is playing out just as another high-profile case related to the inclusion of trans athletes in school sports has landed before the US Supreme Court.

In court papers filed Thursday, attorneys for the athletes told the court that the “injustice that began on the track followed the female athletes to the courtroom.”

“Only the en banc court can vindicate plaintiffs’ Article III standing and their right to seek damages and prospective relief for the CIAC policy’s lasting harms,” the attorneys wrote in their brief.

“CIAC’s own policies demonstrate that correcting students’ athletic records after the fact is both possible and necessary to address the effect of unfair competition. And the highest levels of competitive sport show that society highly values corrected athletic medals and records, no matter how long it takes to get them right,” the brief said.

The court has asked attorneys representing the state and two trans athletes that intervened in the case to submit their own brief by early April.

In the appeals court’s December ruling, the judges said the plaintiffs’ claim that the CIAC policy put them at a competitive disadvantage was unfounded.

“All four plaintiffs regularly competed at state track championships as high school athletes, where plaintiffs had the opportunity to compete for state titles in different events. And, on numerous occasions, plaintiffs were indeed ‘champions,’ finishing first in various events, even sometimes when competing against (Andraya) Yearwood and (Terry) Miller,” the ruling said, referring to the two trans athletes the plaintiffs had competed against.

“Plaintiffs simply have not been deprived of a ‘chance to be champions,’” the judges wrote.

“It’s exceedingly clear here that that the Connecticut policy does not violate Title IX,” said Josh Block, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the two trans athletes who joined the suit to defend the state’s policy.

“That these plaintiffs, far from having been denied educational opportunities, have had an abundance of them in high school, winning scores of awards and champion scholarships,” he continued. “And that allowing transgender girls to participate, you know, has not affected their own athletic opportunities.”

Oral arguments in the case are scheduled for early June.

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