In re C.G.
Ella, a transgender girl, was ordered to register as a sex offender for a juvenile adjudication of a sexual offense committed when she was 15. Wisconsin law prohibits registered individuals from seeking a name change and therefore Ella was barred from legally changing her name.
Juvenile Law Center, National Center for Lesbian Rights, and Trans Law Help Wisconsin filed an amicus brief in the Wisconsin Supreme Court in support of Ella, arguing that sex offender registration is punitive when applied to youth and causes irreparable harm to young people. We further emphasized that registration more severely harms transgender youth by exacerbating existing obstacles to housing and employment, compounding the effects of discrimination that put transgender youth at high risk for serious emotional distress, and placing transgender youth at greater risk of experiencing violence.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court granted Ella’s Petition for Review. Juvenile Law Center, joined by National Center for Lesbian Rights, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, and Eric S. Janus, filed an amicus brief in the Wisconsin Supreme Court, urging the Court to hold that requiring Ella to register violates the Eighth Amendment. Our brief argued that sex offender registration imposes long-lasting stigma, disrupts a young person’s healthy development, and impedes youth participation in the workplace, school, and other daily activities. We further argued that registered youth are at high risk of vigilante and sexual violence, and that, for Ella, all of the aforementioned harms are compounded by anti-transgender discrimination and stigma.
Without examining the research on the harms of youth registration, the ineffectiveness of registration, or the expert’s evaluation of Ella’s low risk of reoffense, the Wisconsin Supreme Court held that forcing Ella to register as a sex offender rationally advances the state’s interest in public safety and does not violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. The Court further rejected Ella's First Amendment claim, reasoning that, because Ella may use her name so long as she lists it on the registry as an alias and presenting documentation bearing a legal name is not expressive conduct, the name change ban does not violate the First Amendment.
Marsha Levick, Emily Satifka, Riya Saha Shah, Vic Wiener
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