HRC Blog

Federal Appeals Court Overturns Law Attacking Transgender Prisoners

Court ScalesPost submitted by Brian Moulton, Former HRC Legal Director

On Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit upheld a lower court decision upholding the right of transgender people to access medically-necessary treatment while they are incarcerated.  The decision comes in Fields v. Smith, a challenge brought on behalf of transgender prisoners by the ACLU, the ACLU of Wisconsin and Lambda Legal challenging a Wisconsin law that categorically denied prisoners access to medically necessary hormone therapy and sex reassignment surgery.  In April 2010, a federal district judge struck down the law, concluding that it violates the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.

In upholding that decision, the appeals court concluded, “Surely, had the Wisconsin legislature passed a law that DOC [Wisconsin Department of Corrections] inmates with cancer must be treated only with therapy and pain killers, this court would have no trouble concluding that the law was unconstitutional. Refusing to provide effective treatment for a serious medical condition serves no valid penological purpose and amounts to torture.”

We thank the courageous plaintiffs and their attorneys for their efforts and applaud the Seventh Circuit for overturning this shameful, discriminatory law.

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