The panel wrote that “Congress has said nothing to prohibit courts from referring to litigants according to their biological sex.”
NEW ORLEANS—A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit on January 15 rejected a motion by a prisoner convicted on child pornography charges to alter the judgment against him to reflect his preferred name and pronouns.
The convict, Norman Varner, had argued that, since he had legally changed his name to “Kathrine Nicole Jett” and identifies as a female, references to him in the judgment sentencing him to prison should be altered to reflect these changes.
The Fifth Circuit panel rejected both arguments.
While the argument regarding his legal name change was dismissed on the basic of jurisdictional reasons, with the Court saying that “Varner’s… request does not fall into any… recognized categories of postconviction motions,” it rejected his demand for pronounal changes after consideration of the merits.
The court wrote that “no authority supports the proposition that we may require litigants, judges, court personnel, or anyone else to refer to gender-dysphoric litigants with pronouns matching their subjective gender identity.” It explained that, while practice varies from court to court, none of these practices creates a legitimate binding legal precedent.
Furthermore, the panel continued, “Congress has said nothing to prohibit courts from referring to litigants according to their biological sex, rather than according to their subjective gender identity,” adding that in some cases a court’s use of a “preferred” pronoun could raise concerns about judicial impartiality.
Varner, who in addition to the child pornography charges is also serving time for failing to register as a sex offender, has said that he hopes to undergo gender reassignment surgery soon. It is unclear whether taxpayer funding would pay for this surgery. It is also not presently known whether Varner will try to appeal the Court panel’s decision.