Wisconsin Supreme Court Rules Transgender Sex Offender Can't Change Her Name

The court said Thursday that the law doesn't allow people on the state’s sex offender registry to change their names.
Justice Scales and wooden gavel or hammer on wooden surface
Justice Scales and wooden gavel or hammer on wooden surface
David Talukdar via Getty Images

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 does not allow people on the registry to change their names.

The court’s 4-3 decision upholds the rulings of two lower courts, which rejected the woman’s requests to change her name and avoid registering as a sex offender.

The woman, 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 in the sex offender registry.

Ella’s attorneys argued that not allowing her to change her name or avoid registering as a sex offender violated the First and Eighth Amendments as both a violation of her free speech and cruel and unusual punishment.

The Supreme Court rejected both of those arguments.

“Consistent with well established precedent, we hold Ella’s placement on the sex offender registry is not a ‘punishment’ under the Eighth Amendment,” Justice Rebecca Bradley wrote for the majority. “Even if it were, sex offender registration is neither cruel nor unusual. We further hold Ella’s right to free speech does not encompass the power to compel the State to facilitate a change of her legal name. ”

Rebecca Bradley was joined in the majority 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 unusual punishment fail. But they said she should be allowed to petition a court to legally change her name based on First Amendment rights.

“Requiring Ella to maintain a name that is inconsistent with her gender identity and forcing her to out herself every time she presents official documents exposes her to discrimination and abuse,” Bradley wrote for the minority.

Cary Bloodworth, the public defender who represented Ella, has not returned a message seeking comment.

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Associated Press writer Harm Venhuizen contributed to this report. He is 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.

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