Texas AG Ken Paxton pushes court to reconsider injunction halting investigations into affirming care

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks during a press conference at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. on April 26, 2022. (Eric Lee For The Texas Tribune, Eric Lee For The Texas Tribune)

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Attorney General Ken Paxton, in an appeal, is asking the courts to lift an injunction that stopped the state from conducting child abuse investigations over transition-related medical care for transgender youth. Paxton argued that the families — belonging to PFLAG, an LGBTQ advocacy group — did not suffer injuries as a result of the Department of Family and Protective Services’ investigations.

A June lawsuit against the state, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal representing the families of transgender youth, resulted in a temporary injunction which paused the DFPS investigations, ordered by Gov. Greg Abbott earlier last year.

Paxton filed the brief on Friday in response to the plaintiffs’ request that the injunction be upheld in January. In his reply, Paxton sought to overturn that court-order injunction issued in September.

The 3rd Court of Appeals will determine if the injunction will hold up, either by hearing from both sides in oral arguments or simply ruling on the briefs filed. Until then, the injunctive relief will remain in place, according to Karen Loewy, senior counsel and director of constitutional law practice for Lambda Legal.

“There was nothing new about the State’s arguments at all, and thus far, they’ve been rejected by every court that has heard them,” Loewy said in an email.

If the court sides with Paxton, it’s not clear if the DFPS investigations of parents of trans kids would resume. The agency declined to comment on the litigation.

Leading medical organizations across the country say transition-related medical care is the best way to provide care for transgender youth. It can involve social transitions, such as using a certain name or pronouns or wearing clothes that express one’s gender identity. It can also include puberty blockers and hormone treatment. Surgery is rarely, if ever, performed on teenagers.

Paxton said the families have not experienced specific injuries stemming from these investigations, arguing that parents have not lost custody of their children as a result of the investigation and therefore that claim has no standing.

“Thus, [families] have not been injured and their suit is not ripe until their injury is imminent or has already occurred,” Paxton wrote in his appeal.

PFLAG asserted that the state interfered with their parental rights, which are guaranteed in the Texas Constitution. Abbott’s directive ordering DFPS to investigate families has instilled fear in LGBTQ youth who are afraid the state will separate them from their parents. Abbott’s order even forced one family to flee the state.

Paxton also said that PFLAG, which has 600 members, shouldn’t be allowed to stand in for families who could be investigated for child abuse. He said the individual families must participate in the lawsuit in order to provide evidence of injury by the particular investigations directed by Abbott.

Patrick Crimmins, a DFPS spokesperson, said the agency has received 16 reports to investigate through a hotline, 15 of which have led to investigation. Of those, 12 have been closed, three are open — though the agency is not pursuing them due to the injunction.

In February 2022, following a nonbinding legal opinion from Paxton, Abbott directed the DFPS to investigate parents who provide transition-related medical care to their transgender children.

One month later, a family of a transgender teen who was investigated by DFPS sued the state, which led to a district judge granting an injunction, blocking the state from continuing these investigations or opening new ones. The Texas Supreme Court has ruled that Abbott had no grounds to direct DFPS to investigate these families but overturned the statewide injunction on procedural grounds.

In September, Travis County District Judge Amy Clark Meachum granted an injunction, related to the June lawsuit, blocking investigations of PFLAG members who provide transition-related medical care to their transgender children.

Abbott and Paxton’s offices did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

Sneha Dey contributed to this report.

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