PA Superior Court issues trans-supportive ruling

PA Superior Court issues trans-supportive ruling

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Pennsylvania Superior Court recently affirmed the right of transgender people to change their legal name without undue delays imposed by a judge. 

Last year, a Philadelphia trans woman known as “A.S.D.” petitioned for a name-change to correlate with her gender identity. However, Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Linda A. Carpenter denied A.S.D.’s name-change request, noting the petition[er] had a criminal record that includes a felony conviction.

Citing A.S.D.’s criminal background, Carpenter said she must wait another year before resuming her request for a name change.

But in a recent opinion and separate concurring opinion, Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the rights of trans people to have their name changed in a timely manner — even if they have a criminal record. The court remanded the case back to the lower court for further proceedings.

A hearing is expected to be held on A.S.D.’s name-change request in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court. But since there’s a pending request on behalf of A.S.D. for the case file to be sealed, the hearing may not be open to the public. 

Thomas W. Ude Jr., an attorney for A.S.D. and legal and public-policy director at Mazzoni Center, expressed agreement with the Superior Court’s ruling.

“Our client’s name-change petition should have been granted. It was filed long after she completed her [criminal] sentence, and she met every requirement set forth in the governing statute. She, like other trans and gender-non-conforming individuals seeking to change their legal name, simply sought to formalize the name she’s been using in order to align her legal name with her identity. Without a name-change decree, she is involuntarily outed whenever she’s asked for identification, which exposes her to harassment, discrimination and violence. The trial court’s order effectively imposed a new sentence — one that required A.S.D. to endure exposure to those risks for another 12 months.

“As the concurring opinion explains, that added delay was not authorized by the governing statutes, and it was ‘an abuse of discretion and was fundamentally unfair’ to our client for the court to have imposed it. The opinion and concurring opinion plainly repeat, in no uncertain terms, what the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has previously explained: A trial judge’s discretion in reviewing a name-change petition is very limited, and should focus only on whether the change is sought for a fraudulent purpose. My client and I are deeply grateful to my co-counsel, Leslie E. John and Elizabeth Weissert of Ballard Spahr, for the hard work and dedication in helping us to achieve this result.” 

As of presstime, the case hadn’t been assigned to a lower-court judge in Philadelphia for additional proceedings.

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