Judge Rules Montana’s Transgender College Sports Ban is Unconstitutional

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Montana can no longer enforce a 2021 law that bans transgender athletes from participating in women’s college sports. A district court judge recently struck down the ban, along with two laws affecting public higher education institutions, asserting that the state legislature unconstitutionally infringed on the authority of the Montana Board of Regents by passing the measures. 

The now-nullified laws also imposed restrictions on registering voters in campus dining and residence halls and limited disciplinary action for certain types of speech. The legislation also dictated which student groups were entitled to university recognition and funding.

“None of the bills at issue in this case can be fairly characterized as neutral laws of statewide concern,” Gallatin County District Court Judge Rienne McElyea wrote in her ruling. “…Each attempts to directly control internal university affairs and inject legislative policy judgments into [Montana University System] administration, contrary to the letter and intent of the Montana Constitution.”

Regarding the transgender sports ban, McElyea asserted in her ruling that the legislature had no authority to dictate university athletics policies. She also noted that the ban would risk making universities non-compliant with NCAA standards, which could have negative financial consequences. 

The lawsuit was filed against the state by the Montana Federation of Public Employees, the Montana Public Interest Research Group, and various faculty organizations and individuals in the state’s higher education community. 

The case marks one of two recent wins for transgender individuals in Montana’s court system. Earlier this week, the state’s health department announced it would comply with a judge’s order to allow transgender people to change the gender on their birth records. The policy change comes after District Court Judge Miachel Moss threatened contempt charges for the department’s “calculated violations” of his April ruling.