A district court judge in Montana has ruled a state law banning transgender women from competing on college women’s sports teams unconstitutional. The 2021 law was one of three passed by the state’s Republican-controlled legislature that Gallatin County District Court Judge Rienne McElyea struck down.
McElyea ruled that Montana’s constitution gives the state board of regents full authority to govern public college campuses. The three laws, McElyea wrote, attempt “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.”
Along with the transgender sports ban, McElyea also struck down a law that prohibited campuses from limiting support for student groups based on their activities or beliefs and another that restricted campus political activity.
The decision comes after a Montana Supreme Court ruling in June that struck down a law relaxing gun restrictions on college campuses, on similar grounds that the state legislature had violated the board of regents’ constitutional authority to oversee campus policies.
“The Legislature needs to stay in its lane,” said Amanda Curtiss president of the Montana Federation of Public Employees, which was one of the plaintiffs in the case challenging the three laws. “MFPE has a long history defending constitutional rights for all Montanans. I’m not surprised the court found that the Legislature cannot infringe on the Board of Regents’ constitutional authority to govern Montana’s campuses.”
According to Jeff Tierney, an attorney for the plaintiffs, it is not believed that the trans sports ban affected anyone’s participation in college sports while it was in effect.
Montana is just the latest state to try to ban transgender athletes from participating in women’s high school and college sports. So far, 12 states have passed trans sports bans on the grounds that transgender women possess unfair advantages over cisgender female athletes.
While supporters of anti-trans sports bills claim to want to protect female athletes, trans athletes counter that Republican legislators who support these bills have done nothing else to secure increased funding or fight the institutional sexism that actually discourages cisgender female athletes from competing in sports.