Monday, January 20, 2020

5th Circuit: Court Should Not Agree To Use Pronoun Requested By Litigant

In United States v. Varner, (5th Cir., Jan. 15, 2020), the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals denied a motion by a transgender female inmate for a name change on the inmate's judgement of confinement.  Petitioner wanted the male name on her judgment changed to reflect her later name change to that of a female.  In addition, petitioner sought to require the courts to refer to her using female pronouns. The majority and the partial dissent disagree on whether this motion refers to the district court, or only to the Court of Appeals. In rejecting this request, the majority said in part:
[I]f a court were to compel the use of particular pronouns at the invitation of litigants, it could raise delicate questions about judicial impartiality. Federal judges should always seek to promote confidence that they will dispense evenhanded justice. See Canon 2(A).... In cases like these, a court may have the most benign motives in honoring a party’s request to be addressed with pronouns matching his “deeply felt, inherent sense of [his] gender.” ... Yet in doing so, the court may unintentionally convey its tacit approval of the litigant’s underlying legal position.... Even this appearance of bias, whether real or not, should be avoided....
A Washington Post op-ed discusses the decision.