Administration's push for transgender rights likely to succeed, perhaps with a boost from Scalia

The Obama administration’s push to apply 1960s and 1970s equal-rights laws to the transgender community is likely to win favor in federal courts and may even get a surprising assist from the late conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

Transgender rights has emerged as the new frontier in civil rights law and the latest battleground for the nation’s culture wars.

On Friday, the Obama administration’s Education and Justice departments sent a letter to public school officials nationwide, warning them that schools must provide an environment free of discrimination and treat students consistent with their gender identity, even if that’s different from the sex assigned at birth.

Earlier this week, the Justice Department and North Carolina’s Gov. Pat McCrory filed dueling lawsuits against each other, asking a judge to decide whether North Carolina House Bill 2, the so-called bathroom bill, violates federal civil rights laws. It says public bathrooms and changing facilities may be used only “by individuals based on their biological sex [as] stated on a person’s birth certificate.”

Separately Friday, the Health and Human Services Department announced regulations forbidding sex discrimination in healthcare and health coverage, covering “pregnancy, gender identity and sex stereotyping.”

At issue in all these cases is a deceptively simple question: What is discrimination based on “sex”?