A federal judge has granted an Alabama conservative nonprofit’s motion to quash a U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) subpoena that demanded all information related to the nonprofit’s efforts to promote a bill prohibiting puberty blockers and gender-reassignment surgery on people under 19 years of age.
The Eagle Forum of Alabama filed the motion in U.S. federal district court seeking to quash the DOJ’s Aug. 9 subpoena in September.
“We’re pleased that the judge realized how overbroad and burdensome this request was,” Kris Ullman, president of the D.C. office of the Eagle Forum that oversees the non-profit’s state chapters, told The Epoch Times.
“It’s unprecedented that a 501(c)(4) group that was created in order to lobby legislators would have all of their records subpoenaed on an issue that went before the state legislature,” she said in a previous interview.
The DOJ subpoena sought all information related to the nonprofit’s legislative work on the Alabama Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection (VCAP) Act, which became effective on May 8.
Though the Eagle Forum Chapter of Alabama had been consulting with legislators since 2019 on writing the bill, the DOJ’s August subpoena is calling for more than five years of records related to the organization’s work on the bill, despite the nonprofit not being a party in the legal action.
The new legislation was met with lawsuits, one of which was Boe et al. v. Marshall et al. (pdf) filed in U.S. District Court on April 19 that challenged the constitutionality of the bill, claiming that the law violated the 14th Amendment right to equal protection.
Ten days later on April 29, the DOJ filed a motion to join as an intervenor party to the lawsuit.
In May, Liles Burke, a U.S. judge for the Northern District of Alabama, issued a preliminary injunction to stop the state from enforcing the law until the challenge is resolved.
The bill itself prohibited puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and surgery for those 18 and under, and required parental notification from the schools if a staff member were to treat a child for gender dysphoria.
“When the party sued the state of Alabama claiming it was unconstitutional, the judge issued an injunction against the ban on puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones,” Ullman said. “So, right now in Alabama, young people can have access to those two things, but what they can’t have access to is the surgery, and schools are still required to inform parents if their child is exhibiting gender dysphoria.”
A spokesperson for Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall’s office told The Epoch Times that in November, the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals will hold an oral argument in Montgomery on the state of Alabama’s appeal of the federal district court’s preliminary injunction of the state’s transgender law.
“Meanwhile, the parties are presently in discovery and working toward the trial on the merits, which is currently scheduled for Aug. 23,” the spokesperson said.
Because the state of Alabama is a party to the lawsuit in which the DOJ intervened, Ullman said, the state is subject to the rules of the discovery process which allows for the DOJ to request all the research that legislators used to write the bill.
“There has been no indication that legislature is not cooperating,” Ullman said. “So, what’s unusual is the DOJ going to an outside group that isn’t party to the lawsuit and demanding this information. In our view, this is harassment.”
‘Overly Broad and Unduly Burdensome’
Burke granted the Eagle Forum’s motion to quash the DOJ’s subpoena, stating in his opinion that the subpoena is “overly broad and unduly burdensome.”
“Considering the relevance (or lack thereof) of the requested material, the burden of production, the nonparties’ resources, and the Government’s own conduct, the Court finds that the subpoenas exceed the scope of discovery,” Burke said.
Burke ruled not on the constitutionality of the subpoena but on procedural grounds, Ullman explained, which leaves the door open for the DOJ to return with a subpoena requesting a narrower scope of information.
Warning From the White House
LGBT-advocacy organization The Human Rights Campaign and the White House have criticized the legislation, calling it discriminatory and antagonistic toward transgendered youth.
In April, then-White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that lawmakers “who are contemplating these discriminatory bills have been put on notice by the DOJ and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) that laws and policies preventing care that health care professionals recommend for transgender minors may violate the Constitution and federal law.”
On March 31, the DHHS Office of Population Affairs released a document titled “Gender-Affirming Care and Young People,” which endorses gender-reassignment surgery and hormone treatment for minors.
Most recently in September, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a “gender-affirming health care” bill into law, making the state a refuge for transgender-identifying children and their parents fleeing child abuse laws in other states.
‘An Attack on the First Amendment’
In September, several conservative public interest law firms, special interest foundations, and legislators signed off on an amicus brief filed in the U.S. District Court in support of Eagle Forum of Alabama’s motion to quash the DOJ’s subpoena.
The subpoena follows a pattern of what Republicans have viewed as a double standard in how the DOJ treats Republicans as opposed to Democrats, such as with the Mar-a-Lago raid of former President Donald Trump’s home while downplaying the significance of Hunter Biden’s laptop and any investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s handling of an email server.
The DOJ didn’t respond to The Epoch Times’ request for comment.
For Ullman and the Eagle Forum of Alabama, the subpoena wasn’t just harassment but a direct attack on the First Amendment.
Though Burke didn’t make his ruling on those grounds, it’s still a win, Ullman said.
“This is a victory for any advocacy group that wants to speak out and petition its government,” Ullman said.