By Kevin Daley
Judge William Pryor of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a judicial conservative of the highest order, released an opinion Tuesday requiring a junior high school in Florida to accommodate an extra-curricular gay-straight alliance.
Pryor is widely considered a frontrunner for President-elect Donald Trump’s first appointment to the Supreme Court.
The controversy was occasioned when the Lake County School Board in Florida blocked students at Carver Middle School from forming a gay-straight alliance. The ACLU of Florida helped students and parents orchestrate a challenge to the decision. The case was dismissed by a lower court in 2015, but the ACLU successfully appealed to the 11th Circuit.
“We are of course pleased that the court agreed with our legal position on all of the issues in the appeal,” said Daniel Tilley, an LGBT rights staff attorney for the ACLU of Florida. “But the greater victory is for the middle school students across Florida who are protected by the Equal Access Act and must be allowed to create a gay-straight alliance if their school allows extracurricular clubs.” (RELATED: Appeals Court Seems Likely To Issue Sweeping Anti-Discrimination Ruling)
The case turned on the 11th Circuit’s reading of the Equal Access Act, which requires public secondary schools which receive federal aid to allow student groups to use school facilities. In this instance it was unclear that Carver, a junior high school, provided “secondary education” within the meaning of the law. Writing for a unanimous three-judge panel, Pryor concluded the Equal Access Act applies to Carver because its curriculum includes a high school-level algebra course for which students can obtain high school credit.
Pryor has come down on the side of the LGBT community before. He joined an opinion in 2011 which found that discrimination against transgender individuals qualifies as sex-discrimination forbidden by the Equal Protection Clause.
Nonetheless, LGBT groups are generally wary of Pryor. For example, he authored an amicus (or “friend of the court”) brief urging the Supreme Court to uphold Texas’s anti-sodomy law in Lawrence v. Texas. Gay rights groups mobilized, ultimately unsuccessfully, against his nomination to the 11th Circuit during former President George W. Bush’s administration.