Wisconsin’s highest court has ruled that a registered sex offender can’t change her name to reflect her new gender identity
A Wisconsin law barring registered sex offenders from changing their legal names still applies even when the convicted perpetrator switches his or her gender identity, the state Supreme Court has ruled.
The 4-3 decision, announced on Thursday, found that two lower courts were correct when they rejected a transgender woman’s request to change her name. The 22-year-old convict, identified as “Ella,” is required to be listed under her legal name on the state’s sex offender registry.
“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 Grassl Bradley wrote in Thursday’s ruling. “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.”
Court records show that Ella, a biological male, stood about 6-foot-5 and 345 pounds when she sexually assaulted a 14-year-old boy in 2016. The victim, who was blind in one eye and autistic, was seven inches shorter and 235 pounds lighter than his attacker. Ella later taunted the boy on social media, telling other students what happened and further traumatizing the victim, according to the court.
Three of the high court’s judges agreed with Ella’s lawyers, who argued that blocking her from changing her name and requiring her to remain on the sex offender registry was unconstitutionally cruel and violated her right to free speech. “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,” Justice Ann Walsh Bradley said.
However, Grassl Bradley wrote in the majority opinion that Ella is still free to express her gender identity. “For example, nothing prohibits her from dressing in women’s clothing, wearing make-up, growing out her hair, or using a feminine alias,” the judge said.
Ella’s lawyers also argued that the state has no “rational basis” for keeping track of her. Grassl Bradley said she found that claim “incredible,” in light of the severe and forceful nature of her crime. Ella was found to have held down and forcibly performed oral sex on the victim while an accomplice covered his mouth to prevent him from screaming.