KOSILEK RULING OVERTURNED
December 17, 2014
“A divided federal appeals court in Boston on Tuesday overturned a lower court’s ruling that a transgender Massachusetts prison inmate, convicted of committing a domestic murder, was entitled to taxpayer-funded sex change surgery.
The ruling by the First US Circuit Court of Appeals came after a 2012 ruling by US District Judge Mark Wolf, who ordered the surgery after finding that the state’s failure to provide it violated the inmate’s Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment.
In January, a three-judge panel of the appeals court upheld Wolf’s 2012 decision, but the state of Massachusetts then asked for an en banc, or full bench, review, which led to Tuesday’s ruling.
The ruling came in the case of Michelle Kosilek, who was born Robert Kosilek. Kosilek is serving a life sentence for killing her wife, Cheryl Kosilek, in 1990.
The court ruled 3-2, with Judges O. Rogeriee Thompson and William J. Kayatta Jr. filing separate dissenting opinions..
“We are faced with the question whether the [state Department of Correction’s] choice of a particular medical treatment is constitutionally inadequate,” the court said in the majority opinion.
“After carefully considering the community standard of medical care, the adequacy of the provided treatment, and the valid security concerns articulated by the DOC, we conclude that the district court erred and that the care provided to Kosilek by the DOC does not violate the Eighth Amendment,” said the opinion, which was written by Judge Juan R. Torruella.
Kosilek and the DOC — under successive administrations, both Democratic and Republican — have battled in the courts for decades over what medical treatment, clothing, makeup should be provided to deal with Kosilek’s gender identity disorder.
Wolf ruled in 2012 that the only medically appropriate treatment for Kosiliek’s condition was the surgery, which would be paid for by the state since Kosilek is a state prison inmate.
But the appeals court ruled Tuesday that Wolf had wrongly substituted his own judgment for the medical professionals, who did not unanimously endorse the surgery as the only appropriate solution for the condition that all sides acknowledged contributed to a depressed mental state and suicide attempts by Kosilek.
Wolf also went too far by “circumvent[ing] the deference owed to prison administrators’’ under federal laws when the issue is the safety of prison inmates, Torruella wrote.
“The prison administrators in this case have decades of combined experience in the management of penological institutions, and it is they, not the court, who are best situated to determine what security concerns will arise,’’ Torruella wrote.
The ruling said the DOC made a valid argument when it expressed concern about the safety of Kosilek and women prisoners he potentially could be housed with once the surgery was done.
“The DOC’s security report reflected that significant concerns would also arise from housing a formerly male inmate — with a criminal history of extreme violence against a female domestic partner — within a female prison population containing high numbers of domestic violence survivors,’’ Torruella wrote.
In a statement, Public Safety Secretary Andrea Cabral said the DOC accepts as true that Kosilek suffers from gender identity disorder diagnosis, and added that was not the issue that the latest round of Kosilek litigation was resolved by the courts on Tuesday.
“The First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the medical and mental health care provided to Kosilek by the DOC did not violate the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constituion,’’ Cabral said in the statement.
“While we acknowledge the legitimacy of a gender identity disorder diagnosis, DOC’s appeal was based on the lower court’s significant expansion of the standard for what constitutes adequate care under the Eighth Amendment, and on substantial safety and security concerns regarding Ms. Kosilek’s post-surgery needs,’’ Cabral said in the statement.”
Read more at the link.
[Bolding by me- GM]
Read the court decision here [PDF]: http://media.ca1.uscourts.gov/pdf.opinions/12-2194P2-01A.pdf
Read more about Kosilek HERE.