Politics|Judge Blocks Trump Officials’ Attempt to End Transgender Health Protections

The decision arrived a day before a Trump administration rule narrowing the legal definition of sex discrimination was set to take effect.

Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

Margot Sanger-KatzNoah Weiland

WASHINGTON — A federal judge on Monday blocked an effort by the Trump administration to erase protections for transgender patients against discrimination by doctors, hospitals and health insurance companies, dealing a blow to the broader legal reasoning it has used to try to roll back transgender rights across the government.

Judge Frederic Block of the United States District Court in Brooklyn found that the administration’s new rule, which was finalized in mid-June by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights, appeared to be incompatible with a Supreme Court case, decided days later, establishing that employers cannot discriminate against transgender people in the workplace.

His ruling temporarily blocks enforcement of the new rule, which was due to take effect Tuesday, while a lawsuit moved forward.

“When the Supreme Court announces a major decision, it seems a sensible thing to pause and reflect on the decision’s impact,” Judge Block wrote. “Since H.H.S. has been unwilling to take that path voluntarily, the court now imposes it.”

The legal issues in the two cases are closely related: Both hinge on what it means to discriminate on the basis of sex.

The administration’s position was that discrimination against transgender people was not discrimination because of sex, a view that has informed policies not only in health care but in employment, education and housing policy.

“H.H.S. took a position on that issue, as it was entitled to do,” Judge Block wrote. “But that position was effectively rejected by the Supreme Court.”

A spokeswoman for the Office for Civil Rights said the office was disappointed by the ruling. The Justice Department, which is arguing the case, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The rule at issue sought to reinterpret a civil rights provision of the Affordable Care Act that barred discrimination in health care settings on the basis of race, national origin, sex, age or disability.

The meaning of those words for transgender patients has been subject to legal disputes for years. An earlier rule from the Obama administration would have required insurance companies to cover and health care providers to offer medical care for transgender patients. Critics challenged that rule in court, to mixed results. Several district courts upheld the policy, but a judge in Fort Worth said the rule had been legally invalid and issued a nationwide injunction to block its enforcement.

Trump administration officials quickly scuttled the original rule after taking office, citing the Texas ruling as requiring a different approach.

But the legal landscape has changed since the Supreme Court’s employment case, known as Bostock v. Clayton County, Ga. Several legal experts predicted that the case would most likely change the courts’ approach to the health care rule, because the language in the Affordable Care Act was so similar to that of the employment discrimination statute at issue in Bostock.

The ruling on Monday came from the Eastern District of New York, in a case brought by Tanya Asapansa-Johnson Walker and Cecilia Gentili, two transgender women. Litigants have brought similar suits in several other jurisdictions.

It was cheered by human rights organizations and Democratic lawmakers, who had joined the case as friend-of-the-court litigants. In a statement, Speaker Nancy Pelosi called it “a victory for the L.G.B.T.Q. community and the rule of law.”

But the order is not final. Judge Block will still read briefs and hear arguments from both sides of the case before issuing a final opinion. And any decision will still be subject to appeal.