Approved ~~ MJM
Federal appeals courts hear cases that impact the rights of millions. They decide matters with billions of dollars at stake. They sometimes hear cases where thousands of lives hang in the balance.
United States v. Varner is not oneof those cases. The main thing at stake in Varner is whether three judges will treat a woman with courtesy or with needless cruelty.
Two of them chose the latter option.
The case involves Kathrine Nicole Jett, a trans woman who is incarcerated in a federal prison. (Jett does not appear to use the name “Varner,” butfor the sake of clarity, this piece will refer to her case as United States v. Varner because that is the only name the courts have assigned to it.) Jett made a couple of requests from the federal judiciary relating to her transition from male to female. She asked that her name be changed on certain court documents from “Norman Keith Varner” to “Kathrine Nicole Jett,” and that judges hearing her case refer to her as a woman and use feminine pronouns.
The name change request was denied on procedural grounds (although the judges hearing the case disagree about why this request should be denied, no judge suggested it should be granted). But the question of how individual judges should refer to a transgender person does not appear to be answered by any law. All three judges hearing the Varner case appear to agree that this decision is entirely up to their discretion.
Unfortunately for Jett, she drew a panel of judges dominated by two unusually conservative Republicans. The author of the Court’s opinion in Varner, Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan, spent part of his career as general counsel to a leading Christian right law firm and litigated multiple cases seeking to restrict LGBTQ rights.