By Daniel Wiessner
(Reuters) – Beauty pageant operator Miss United States of America LLC cannot be forced to allow transgender women to compete because doing so would interfere with its ability to express “the ideal vision of American womanhood,” a U.S. appeals court ruled on Wednesday.
The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a 2-1 decision rejected a lawsuit by Anita Green, a transgender activist, claiming that Miss United States of America’s policy of only allowing “natural born” women to compete violates an Oregon anti-discrimination law.
Green, who is from Oregon, sued the company in federal court in Portland last year after her application to participate in the pageant was rejected. Miss United States of America does business as United States of America Pageants.
The 9th Circuit said applying the Oregon law, which prohibits discrimination based on gender identity in public accommodations, to Miss United States of America would violate the pageant’s free speech rights under the U.S. Constitution. The court agreed with the company that it expresses its views on womanhood by determining who can compete.
“It is commonly understood that beauty pageants are generally designed to express the ‘ideal vision of American womanhood,'” wrote Circuit Judge Lawrence VanDyke, an appointee of former Republican President Donald Trump.
VanDyke was joined by Circuit Judge Carlos Bea, an appointee of former Republican President George W. Bush.
The ruling affirmed a 2021 decision by a federal judge dismissing Green’s lawsuit.
Miss United States of America and a lawyer for Green did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
In a dissenting opinion, 9th Circuit Judge Susan Graber said the court should have first decided whether the Oregon law applies to the company at all before weighing the constitutional issues. Graber was appointed to the 9th Circuit by former President Bill Clinton, a Democrat.
(This story has been corrected to fix name of pageant. A previous version of this article incorrectly identified Miss United States of America as Miss USA. Miss USA is a separate pageant operated by a different company.)
(Reporting by Daniel Wiessner in Albany, New York; Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Mark Porter)