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U.S. Beauty Pageant Can Reject Trans Contestants, Appeals Court Rules

Woman figure with beauty pageant crown on
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One judge said beauty pageants were created to showcase the "ideal vision of American womanhood."

An appeals court ruled Wednesday that requiring the Miss United States of America pageant to allow transgender women to compete would violate its First Amendment right to communicate "the ideal vision of American womanhood."

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled in a 2-1 decision that forcing the organization to allow Anita Green, a transgender woman, to participate in the pageant would violate its First Amendment rights.

The Oregon woman sued Miss United States of America Pageants in federal court in Portland last year after her application to participate was denied.

The Ninth Circuit ruled that enforcing Oregon's law would violate the pageant's free speech rights under the U.S. Constitution if the law, which prohibits discrimination based on gender identity in public accommodations, were applied to Miss United States of America.

"It is commonly understood that beauty pageants are generally designed to express the 'ideal vision of American womanhood,'" wrote Circuit Judge Lawrence VanDyke, a Trump appointee.

Judge Susan Graber dissented, however, stating that the court should have first decided if the Oregon law applied to the company in the first place.

Legal experts say that rulings that discriminate against trans women like this one result from unqualified judges being confirmed to the bench by the previous Senate.

Alejandra Caraballo, a clinical instructor at Harvard Law School, warns that the decision opens the door for other acts of discrimination.

"This is a result of the continued impact of Trump's anti-LGBTQ judicial nominations that were rated not qualified by the [American Bar Association]," she says. "This opens up the door to First Amendment challenges for all public accommodation protections around race, religion, and sex to be overridden by personal views, no matter how bigoted."

She adds, "There's no logical difference from a pageant barring women of color because it is their personal view that only white women should represent the pageant."

The ruling came just one week after another pageant, Miss Universe, was acquired by a Thai transgender businesswoman.

Correction: A previous version of this article named the wrong pageant. The case involves the Miss United States of America pageant.

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