Thursday, May 28, 2020
Samuel Bagenstos, Legitimacy and Agency Implementation of Title IX, 42, Harvard J. Law & Gender (2020)
Because Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 involves a subject that remains highly controversial in our polity (sex roles and interactions among the sexes more generally), and because it targets a highly sensitive area (education), the administration of that statute by the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights has long drawn criticism. The critics have not merely noted disagreements with the legal and policy decisions of the agency, however. Rather, they have attacked the agency’s decisions for being illegitimate—for reflecting the agency’s improper imposition of value judgments on the statute. Three key applications of Title IX have drawn the most controversy in this regard: gender equity in intercollegiate athletics; transgender students’ rights; and sex-based harassment and assault on college campuses. This symposium essay argues that the critique is misplaced. One may agree or disagree with OCR’s applications of Title IX in these three key areas. But these applications are not illegitimate. To the contrary, they are implementation decisions made consistent with the longstanding “core” conception of discrimination — intentional disparate treatment. These decisions are inherently contestable, because even the “core” conception can be instantiated in many ways. But there are strong reasons to believe that OCR is best positioned to choose which instantiations to adopt. This essay thus shows how disputes over Title IX implicate broader questions of what discrimination means, as well as broader debates involving the legitimacy of the administrative state.