Federal judge upholds California law that lets males in female prisons 

California News Filler

By Zachary Stieber 
Contributing Writer 

A U.S. judge has thrown out a legal challenge to a California law that enables males, even if they haven’t undergone gender reassignment surgery, to be housed with females in prisons. 

Senate Bill 132, which took effect in 2021, lets males who self-identify as women, non-binary, or gender fluid serve their sentences in women’s correctional facilities. Some women sued state officials, arguing the law violates their constitutional rights, including their right to free exercise of religion, and subjects them to cruel and unusual punishment. 

In the May 14 ruling, U.S. District Judge Jennifer Thurston dismissed the suit. 

Arguments based on California’s Constitution need to be dismissed under court precedent, Thurston, an appointee of President Joe Biden, wrote. As to the federal claims, despite neither party raising the 11th Amendment, the court decided the amendment’s immunity means the rest of the claims must be tossed. 

“As a state agency, it is a long-established principle that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is immune from suit in federal court under the 11th Amendment,” Thurston said, citing a 2009 decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit and other rulings. “While not fully briefed by CDCR the court cannot conclude that CDCR has unequivocally waived immunity and consented to federal jurisdiction. Though CDCR has appeared and defended this action through the filing of a motion to dismiss, these actions do not constitute unequivocally expressing a waiver of immunity or consent to suit.” 

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation did not respond to a request for comment. 

Before the law was enacted, some males could serve their sentences in women’s prisons, but only if they were designated by medical personnel as displaying symptoms of gender dysphoria. Supporters said the law was needed to protect men who identify as women. 

The judge also addressed other arguments, including the plaintiffs’ argument that the state’s position on people being able to change their sex and being based in part on thoughts and feelings constituted “a government-sanctioned religious doctrine that is not based in material reality.” 

“As a matter of law, the court cannot plausibly determine that transgenderism is a religion,” the judge said. 

She barred plaintiffs from filing an updated complaint against CDCR, but said they may within 21 days file an amended action against state officials who were also named as defendants. 

Women’s Liberation Front, which brought the suit, highlighted how recently prosecutors in Madera County charged Tremaine Carroll, a male being housed with women, with two counts of forcible rape and dissuading a witness from testifying. Carroll had told federal court in a sworn declaration in the case that he could “sympathize with the plaintiffs” and was “not a threat to them.” 

California’s Office of the Inspector General has previously acknowledged that some pregnancies could occur in California prisons since men are being housed with women. It said that state officials confirmed “numerous allegations of consensual sexual misconduct” between recently transferred male and female inmates. And, according to Women’s Liberation Front, officials began handing out condoms shortly after the law was enacted. 

The suit was brought on behalf of inmates Janine Chandler, Tomiekia Johnson, Krystal Gonzalez, and Nadia Romero. 

“We have already seen the devastating result of these policies in the two years it took to get a response from the court: rape, pregnancy, and repeated violation of women’s constitutional rights. This is not the end of our fight,” the group said in a statement. “We will continue pursuing every avenue of justice for Janine, Tomiekia, Krystal, Nadia, and all incarcerated women in California.” 

Lambda Legal, among the intervenors in the case, cheered the ruling. 

“We are relieved that the court saw through this legally flawed challenge, and rejected its distorted arguments,” Nora Huppert, an attorney with the organization, said in a statement. “In dismissing this challenge, the court recognized that California has an obligation to protect the safety of incarcerated transgender people.” 

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