(Bloomberg) -- A Biden administration rule barring states from discriminating against poor LGBTQ people in the distribution of food stamps and other nutrition assistance programs survived a legal challenge by almost two dozen Republican-led states.
The lawsuit filed in July exaggerated the impact that the federal regulation would have on religious freedom, and improperly tied the new rule to unrelated issues around transgender rights, US District Judge Travis R. McDonough said in the decision Wednesday in Knoxville, Tennessee.
“This case is about food stamps and nutrition education, not bathrooms, sports teams, free speech, or religious exercise,” the judge said.
The case is one of many challenging Biden administration rules created in response to a 2020 landmark US Supreme Court ruling that Title 7 of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. The rule at the center of the lawsuit was created by the Department of Agriculture, which oversees the food assistance programs.
In their complaint, the GOP-led states led by Tennessee said they don’t discriminate against LGBTQ people in access to food assistance, but argued that the new rule would be a slippery slope to “ending sex-separated living facilities and athletics and mandating the use of biologically inaccurate preferred pronouns.”
A representative of Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti’s office said, “We are aware of the ruling and reviewing it. We cannot comment further in case of an appeal.”
Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin said he was pleased the court interpreted the rule narrowly, so it applies to conduct the states “do not — and have never — engaged in.” He said the coalition of states is reviewing the ruling to determine the next step.
McDonough, an appointee of former President Barack Obama, blasted the suit as being based on “distinctly imaginative allegations and strained reasoning.”
The case “is about whether, in administering food benefits, Plaintiff States can ignore a federal statute and discriminate against poor people who do not conform to traditional conceptions of sex,” the judge wrote. “Plaintiff States’ insistence to the contrary is no more than an invitation to join a political discussion untethered to applicable statutes and precedent.”
The case is Tennessee v. US Department of Agriculture , 3:22-cv-00257, US District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee (Knoxville).
(Updates with comment from Arkansas attorney general)
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