WASHINGTON — A transgender Indiana man is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review his challenge to a state law forbidding him to change his legal name because he’s not a U.S. citizen.
The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) and the Transgender Law Center petitioned the high court on behalf of the 33-year-old man, identified as “John Doe,” who is required by the Indiana law to use his female birth name.
Doe asked the Supreme Court to review a federal appeals court decision dismissing his challenge to the 2010 Indiana law. He argued the law violates the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment.
In a statement released by MALDEF, Doe said: “This law puts me in danger every time I have to show ID…. Without a legal name change, I’m forced to risk harassment, violence and being outed as transgender on a daily basis.”
In March, a divided, three-judge panel of the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Court of Appeals upheld a federal district court’s dismissal of the man’s lawsuit, saying he lacked standing to sue the state in federal court. The appeals court said the 11th Amendment – which bars suits against U.S. citizens by non-citizens — shielded the state from the immigrant’s challenge.
In their petition to the U.S. Supreme Court, Doe’s lawyers wrote: “The danger in the Seventh Circuit’s majority decision is that Indiana and other states may conclude that assigning state court judges, clothed with judicial immunity, to enforce categorical and discriminatory exclusions in statutes – without any discretion to waive the exclusion – is a surefire mechanism to avoid federal court evaluation and adjudication of the constitutionality and legality of the enacted discrimination.”
Doe, now a permanent resident, was born a girl in Mexico and raised in Indiana. He has lived several years as a man but can’t change his legal name because of the 2010 state law precluding non-citizens from petitioning the state for a name change.
“John Doe deserves his day in court to challenge a law that discriminates openly and inexplicably against all non-citizens,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel. “He has chosen federal court rather than state court, where circuit court judges are elected by the same voters who elected the legislature that enacted and leaves in place the blatant exclusion, to hear his claims; under well-established precedent, his choice should be respected.”
MALDEF and TLC filed their initial federal lawsuit, Doe v. [former Indiana Gov. Mike] Pence, against state and county officials in September 2016, arguing that the state law requiring proof of citizenship to obtain a change of legal name is unconstitutional. The case is now called Doe v. [Indiana Gov. Eric] Holcomb.
Holcomb’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.
“Courts so far have refused to deal with the blatant discrimination written into Indiana law and have instead made procedural rulings that would leave Mr. Doe and thousands of others without a path to fight for their rights in federal court under the U.S. Constitution,” said Flor Bermudez, legal director at the Oakland-based Transgender Law Center.
“Today, Mr. Doe asks the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case and correct these errors that would let states insulate their discriminatory statutes from meaningful federal judicial review and continue to discriminate so long as they require their judges to do the discriminating for them.”