Idaho leaders OK $321K in transgender-birth certificate case

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Posted at 2:34 PM, Aug 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-16 16:34:05-04

Idaho lawmakers who made it more difficult for transgender people to change the sex listed on their birth certificates despite a U.S. court ruling banning such obstacles must pay $321,000 in legal fees to the winning side after losing in the same court.

Republican Gov. Brad Little and Republican Secretary of State Lawerence Denney on the State Board of Examiners on Tuesday approved paying the winning side’s legal fees set by the court in June.

The court in March 2018 banned Idaho from automatically rejecting applications from transgender people to change the sex listed on their birth certificates. The court ruled the restriction violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

But lawmakers in 2020 approved a ban anyway, and Little signed the bill into law. The 2018 case was reopened and Idaho lost again, resulting in the $321,000 legal bill. The state previously paid $75,000 after losing the initial case in 2018.

The plaintiffs in the case were represented by Lambda Legal, which on its website describes itself as a national legal organization working to get full civil rights recognition for lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and everyone living with HIV. The plaintiffs sought roughly $450,000, but the court reduced that amount to what it considered reasonable by looking at the case's complexity and hours billed.

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The Board of Examiners typically sends such bills to the Constitutional Defense Council, comprised of the governor, attorney general and leaders of the House and Senate. The council controls the constitutional defense fund that has traditionally gone to pay the winning side's legal fees when Idaho loses court cases. That fund has paid out more than $3 million.

But the board on Tuesday instead sent the bill to the Legislature. The Legislature isn't scheduled to meet until January. Meanwhile, the $321,000 is growing at an interest rate of 2.14% until it's paid, according to a letter from the Idaho attorney general's office to Brian Benjamin at the state controller's office.

The Legislature has several potential options for paying the bill, Benjamin said. Lawmakers could send it to the Constitutional Defense Council. There is also the legislative legal defense fund controlled by the leaders of the House and Senate, currently Republican House Speaker Scott Bedke and Republican Senate President Pro-Tem Chuck Winder.

Finally, lawmakers could appropriate the money from some other source.

Regardless, “it's all taxpayer money,” Benjamin noted.