Supreme Court rules that denial of gender-affirming surgery for trans inmate is ‘cruel and unusual punishment’

Transgender inmate Adree Edmo is being housed in a men's prison in Idaho

The US Supreme Court has upheld a previous ruling that a prison’s attempt to block gender-confirmation surgery for transgender inmate Adree Edmo amounts to “cruel and unusual punishment”.

Idaho governor Brad Little appealed to the Supreme Court to avoid paying for surgery for 31-year-old Edmo, a trans woman who is being housed in a men’s facility.

The order on Thursday means Edmo can continue getting pre-surgical treatments and potentially even gender-confirmation surgery this year while Idaho officials wait to hear if the high court will consider their appeal.

Edmo is serving 10 years for sexually abusing a 15-year-old boy when she was 22, and is not eligible for parole. She is scheduled for release in July 2021.

She was diagnosed with gender dysphoria while in prison and her condition has grown so severe that she has attempted to castrate herself twice.

She sued the state three years ago when prison officials first refused her request for surgery, arguing that to do so was increasing the distress of her gender dysphoria.

A panel of judges agreed that denying Adree Edmo the surgery violated the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, and she looked set to become the first trans inmate to receive gender-confirmation surgery through a court order.

The Idaho Department of Correction immediately appealed the ruling, but the court of appeals upheld its previous decision.

“It is no leap to conclude that Edmo’s severe, ongoing psychological distress and the high risk of self-castration and suicide she faces absent surgery constitute irreparable harm,” the panel of the Ninth Circuit wrote last year.

But Brad Little attempted to appeal the ruling for a second time, insisting that he “should not have to pay for a procedure that is not medically necessary”.

When the full Ninth Circuit refused to hear the case for a third time he vowed to “vigorously litigate” in the Supreme Court – only to fail yet again.

The Supreme Court’s brief order gave no reasons, only saying that the request had been denied. However, it noted that Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito would have granted the state’s request.