Brian Chilson

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge‘s office has had four months to turn over documents regarding the state’s efforts to deny gender-affirming care for children and teens, but so far, it’s ponied up hardly more than a handful of press releases.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge James Moody will hear plaintiffs’ arguments that the state should be compelled to fork over what they’ve got.

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“After months of negotiations, the parties agreed that Defendants would review 4,500 emails and produce any responsive, non-privileged documents. But despite originally agreeing to produce responsive documents, Defendants have produced a total of five emails,” plaintiffs said in a legal brief asking the judge to force Rutledge’s hand.

Rutledge’s office has turned over press releases, but no drafts of them, nor any interoffice email conversations about what the press releases should say, the brief says.

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The Tuesday hearing is a surprise development in the case, which isn’t scheduled to be heard until this summer. Four Arkansas families of transgender youth and two doctors seek to overturn a law state legislators passed in 2021 that would make it illegal for health care workers to provide or even refer anyone under 18 for gender-affirming care. Moody granted a stay in July, a week before the law was slated to go into effect, so that transgender youth in Arkansas can continue receiving care while the issue gets hashed out in the courts.

Attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union who are representing the plaintiffs say Rutledge has also not turned over any documents on Rutledge’s own anti-transgender efforts to pass the GIRLS Act to block transgender girls from being able to play school sports. In this case, GIRLS stands for Gender Integrity Reinforcement Legislation for Sports. A version of it did indeed pass in 2021, and Governor Hutchinson signed it into law. (No schools in Arkansas have reported any problems or controversy related to transgender athletes, but the fact that this isn’t a problem didn’t stop Rutledge and Arkansas Republicans from attacking trans youth on multiple fronts.)

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Rutledge’s office scoffed at these requests by plaintiffs’ attorneys to be able to review communications about anti-trans animus. The GIRLS Act targeting transgender girls in sports has nothing to do with the SAFE Act targeting transgender girls and boys, Rutledge’s office said in a court document:

Indeed, on Plaintiffs’ telling, legislation, like the GIRLS Act, that remedies the
long history of discrimination against women’s sports is strangely evidence of discrimination. And that’s why, apparently, unsatisfied by the documents they received regarding the SAFE Act, Plaintiffs have instead decided to hunt for evidence regarding that separate, uncontroversial, and (unsurprisingly) totally unchallenged anti-discrimination legislation. This Court should reject Plaintiffs’ frivolous fishing expedition.

Rutledge’s and the General Assembly’s attempts to ban trans girls from school sports was in truth highly controversial, prompting a number of hearings and public comments and attracting national attention and mockery when Arkansas became one of the first states to adopt such a ban. But this kind of la-la land rhetoric from Rutledge’s office is pretty standard at this point.

Another interesting development is news that Republican Reps. Mary Bentley, Robin Lundstrum, Marcus Richmond, Jim Wooten and Republican Sen. Alan Clark, co-sponsors of the anti-trans sports bill, initially defied subpoenas to produce documents related to the case. They have since provided some of the requested documents.

You might recall some of the hateful faux Christian diatribes from the above lawmakers during the legislature’s 2021 session. Their push to deny health care to transgender youth was so mean-spirited that it even prompted suicide attempts.

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The hearing is scheduled for 3 p.m. Tuesday.