Kansas’ attorney general wants to keep trans people from intervening in his lawsuit over state IDs

Jul 20, 2023, 11:13 AM | Updated: 12:52 pm

Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach answers questions during a news conference about a new state la...

Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach answers questions during a news conference about a new state law that defines male and female in state law so that transgender people can't change their driver's licenses and birth certificates to reflect their gender identities, Monday, June 26, 2023, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kansas. The number of people making those changes jumped more than 300% this year ahead of the new law taking effect. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

(AP Photo/John Hanna)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Republican attorney general in Kansas is working to keep transgender people from intervening in his state-court lawsuit against changing the sex listings on their state driver’s licenses. His efforts already will block further changes until at least November.

Attorney General Kris Kobach, his legal team and lawyers for the Kansas Department of Revenue were in court Thursday to set a schedule for the lawsuit. The department’s motor vehicles division issues driver’s licenses and has changed the sex listing for more than 900 people during the past four years.

Kobach argues that changing driver’s licenses to reflect transgender people’s gender identities violates a state law rolling back transgender rights that took effect July 1. He sued two top Department of Revenue officials earlier this month after Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly announced that the changes would continue despite the new state law.

Five transgender Kansas residents represented by the state’s American Civil Liberties Union chapter are asking District Judge Teresa Watson to allow them intervene in the lawsuit. Kobach said Thursday he is opposing their request, and Watson plans to rule on it after an Aug. 16 hearing.

Earlier this month, Watson granted Kobach’s request to block driver’s license changes while his lawsuit moves forward. Both Kobach’s office and the Department of Revenue’s attorneys agreed it should stay in place at least until another hearing, now set for Nov. 1.

During Thursday’s hearing in Shawnee County, home to the state capital of Topeka, Kobach unsuccessfully pushed Watson to move ahead with a full trial of his lawsuit as early as next month.

“It’s a pretty cut-and-dried case,” Kobach told reporters. “The statute means what it says. They have a different interpretation of the statute.”

Because of Kobach’s lawsuit, Kansas is among only a few states not allowing transgender residents to change their driver’s licenses, along with Montana, Oklahoma and Tennessee. In a separate federal court case, Kobach also is trying to stop changes in the sex listings on Kansas birth certificates.

over Kelly’s veto.

ACLU attorneys argue that the new law violates transgender people’s rights under the Kansas Constitution, including their rights to privacy and bodily autonomy.

“When we’re trying to make this about something very simple like statutory interpretation, what we’re doing is ignoring the reality that transgender Kansans are going to face every single day in this state,” Sharon Brett, the ACLU of Kansas’ legal director, said after the hearing.

In interviews, transgender Kansas residents have said having a driver’s license with a sex listing that doesn’t match their gender identity complicates getting through airport security, dealing with a traffic stop or even using a credit card. They also have said interactions with others out them publicly as transgender — and potentially jeopardize their safety.

In a court filing, Kathryn Redman, a 62-year-old Kansas City-area resident, said that before she changed her Kansas driver’s license in 2021, she was subjected to “invasive pat downs in the genital area of my body” before getting on flights.

“I frequently received rude comments and I was always uncomfortable in public settings where showing my license was required,” she said.

Kobach said after Thursday’s hearing that the transgender people’s legal claims are premature because Watson hasn’t ruled on whether driver’s license changes violate the new state law. He said he sees the first task as considering the new law’s meaning.

“There will be more than adequate time for constitutional questions to be considered,” he said.

The Department of Revenue’s attorneys have argued that the new law conflicts with an older law specifically dealing with driver’s licenses and that the agency remains bound to follow the older one. The department supports allowing the transgender people to intervene in the case.

“We’re not in a position as the Department of Revenue to appropriately address those concerns,” Pedro Irigonegaray, one of the attorneys, said after Thursday’s hearing.


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Kansas’ attorney general wants to keep trans people from intervening in his lawsuit over state IDs