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Eagle Forum fighting DOJ subpoena over bill targeting trans medical treatment ban

Southeast Law Institute is also fighting an identical subpoena, arguing that the requested documents are irrelevant to the case.

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The U.S. Department of Justice has subpoenaed two organizations that helped in the drafting of Alabama legislation criminalizing the provision of transitionary medical treatment to transgender youth.

The subpoenas were issued to the Eagle Forum of Alabama and the Southeast Law Institute on Aug. 9 and 10 and call for the submission of all documents related to the drafting of the legislation, including communication between the organizations and anyone in the Legislature, governor’s office, attorney general’s office or in any district attorney’s offices. It goes so far as to include any correspondence regarding the bill including speeches and social media posts.

Both organizations have filed motions to quash the subpoenas. Eagle Forum president Kristen A. Ullman called the DOJ’s actions “unprecedented” and “harassment.”

“At stake here is the ability of all private citizen advocates and non-profit advocacy organizations to engage in the legislative process regardless of their viewpoint,” Ullman said in a statement. “If the DOJ can weaponize a subpoena, any American can be unduly burdened and prevented from engaging in our democratic republic form of government. Freedom of speech and freedom of association will be squelched.”

Neither of the organizations are party to Eknes-Tucker, et. al. v. Marshall, et. al., the lawsuit which triggered the subpoena. U.S. District Judge Liles C. Burke, a Trump appointee, enjoined the bill within days of it taking effect and said the plaintiffs are likely to succeed in their case to strike down the law.

“This unprecedented, massive demand by the DOJ for information unrelated to the issues before the court is a blatant attempt to intimidate and silence a non-party organization and crush its Constitutionally-protected rights to educate others, petition the government, and speak freely,” Ullman said. “This harassment must be stopped. It’s a shot across the bow of people and groups engaged in the legislative process throughout the nation. If the Department of Justice doesn’t like your viewpoint it may target you next.”

Eric Johnston, founder of the Southeast Law Institute, said in a motion to quash the subpoena that Eagle Forum approached him to assist in drafting the legislation.

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“Eagle Forum of Alabama was very concerned about the provision of gender-altering medical treatment to minors in Alabama with gender dysphoria, and the permanent and adverse effects of such medical procedures on minors,” Johnston said. “Eagle Forum of Alabama and the Senate and House legislative sponsors contacted me to assist in the research and drafting of a bill to address its concerns.”

Sen. Shay Shellnutt, R-Trussville, and Rep. Wes Allen, R-Troy, carried the bill in the Legislature.

Eagle Forum of Alabama executive director Becky Gerritson said their involvement in the bill is no secret, but argued that it shouldn’t open the organization up to a subpoena.

“After hearing from citizens in Alabama, including parents, doctors, lawyers, and guidance counselors, about their concerns for otherwise healthy children who want to transition to the opposite sex, we decided to undertake the protection of these vulnerable children and have done so publicly and ardently,” Gerritson said. “Eagle Forum of Alabama operates primarily by volunteer Alabama citizens. The right to engage in these activities, free of compulsion and harassment, must be preserved.”

Tabitha Isner, vice chair of the Alabama Democrat Party, said Gerritson shouldn’t shy away from the subpoena.

“This bill is discriminatory and goes against established law giving parents the right to control a child’s medical care. The Eagle Forum was founded on a commitment to gender discrimination, and this legislation follows predictably in that sad tradition,” Isner said. 

“Ms. Gerritson and her team has written legislation that will potentially go to the Supreme Court, but she apparently didn’t expect to have to defend it. They want to play in the big leagues, but they still want all the safety of tee ball. Free speech means that the government can’t stop you from lying or expressing a discriminatory opinion, but that doesn’t mean there are never any consequences for lying or discriminating. The parents of transgender children who have sought an injunction against this law could choose to remain silent and allow this law to hurt their children. Instead, they choose to speak out and fight this law, knowing that there will be consequences. They bravely took that risk, and I hope the women of Eagle Forum will learn from them what it looks like to stand behind your words and actions.”

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Johnston argued that the documents being requested are irrelevant to the legislators’ intent in enacting the statute, and even if they were, that intent is irrelevant to the case because the question is the constitutionality of the law.

Jacob Holmes is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]

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