MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin Supreme Court’s conservative majority said Thursday that a transgender woman cannot change her name because she is on the state’s sex offender registry and the law doesn’t allow people on the registry to alter their names.
The court’s 4-3 decision upholds the rulings of two lower courts, which rejected the girl’s requests to alter her name and avoid registering as a sex offender.
The lady, identified in court documents only as Ella, was required to register as a sex offender after being convicted of sexually assaulting a disabled 14-year-old boy when she was 15. She is now 22. She entered the criminal justice system identifying as male and was ordered to register as a sex offender for 15 years. State law prohibits registered sex offenders from changing their names or using aliases not listed within the sex offender registry.
Ella’s attorneys argued that not allowing her to alter her name or avoid registering as a sex offender violated the First and Eighth Amendments as each a violation of her free speech and cruel and weird punishment.
The Supreme Court rejected each of those arguments.
“Consistent with well established precedent, we hold Ella’s placement on the sex offender registry will not be a ‘punishment’ under the Eighth Amendment,” Justice Rebecca Bradley wrote for almost all. “Even when it were, sex offender registration is neither cruel nor unusual. We further hold Ella’s right to free speech doesn’t encompass the ability to compel the State to facilitate a change of her legal name. ”
Rebecca Bradley was joined in the bulk by Chief Justice Annette Ziegler and Justices Patience Roggensack and Brian Hagedorn. Justice Ann Walsh Bradley wrote the dissenting opinion and was joined by Justices Rebecca Dallet and Jill Karofsky.
The dissenting justices agreed that Ella’s arguments alleging an Eighth Amendment violation of cruel and weird punishment fail. But they said she ought to be allowed to petition a court to legally change her name based on First Amendment rights.
“Requiring Ella to keep up a reputation that’s inconsistent together with her gender identity and forcing her to out herself each time she presents official documents exposes her to discrimination and abuse,” Bradley wrote for the minority.
Cary Bloodworth, the general public defender who represented Ella, has not returned a message looking for comment.
Associated Press author Harm Venhuizen contributed to this report. He’s a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/HarmVenhuizen.