July 12, 2024

Kansas’ governor gets to defend birth certificate changes in court, a judge rules

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly speaks during a news conference at the YWCA Center for Safety and Empowerment Day Center about her proposals for cutting taxes, Monday, Jan. 23, 2023, in Topeka, Kansas. The Democratic governor is preparing to give the annual State of the State address to a skeptical, Republican-controlled Legislature that has different ideas about how to cut taxes. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

By JOHN HANNA AP Political Writer
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge is considering Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s arguments that a new Kansas law rolling back transgender rights doesn’t bar the state from changing the sex listing on transgender people’s birth certificates.
U.S. District Judge Daniel Crabtree ruled Tuesday that Kelly’s office can defend her administration’s policy of changing birth certificates and accepted its “friend of the court” arguments. The state’s Republican attorney general, Kris Kobach, argues that a law that took effect July 1 prohibits such changes and requires the state to undo previous ones.
The new law, which was enacted by the Republican-controlled Legislature over Kelly’s veto, defines male and female based on a person’s sex assigned at birth for “any” state law or regulation. If Kobach is successful, Kansas would be only among a few states that don’t make such changes, along with Montana and Tennessee.
The issue is before Crabtree because he is enforcing a 2019 legal settlement that requires the state to change birth certificates for transgender people. Kobach has argued that the new law nullifies that settlement and has asked Crabtree to revoke his order that made the agreement binding.
The 2018 lawsuit that led to the settlement was filed by four transgender people and named three Kansas health department officials who oversee birth certificates as defendants, but not the governor. Kelly, therefore, needed the judge’s permission to make her own arguments.
In her filing that Crabtree accepted Tuesday, Kelly’s office argued that the new law is discriminatory but the health department is not violating it by changing birth certificates. In a separate filing, the four transgender people said “the zealous desire” of some officials to discriminate against transgender people doesn’t justify reconsidering the legal settlement’s terms.
“Such an outcome would undermine confidence in courts’ ability to vindicate constitutional rights,” they argued.
Kobach also is attacking changes in the sex listings on Kansas driver’s licenses in a separate a state-court lawsuit.