Case Summary & History: Pickup v. Brown and Welch v. Brown

Cases: Pickup v. Brown and Welch v. Brown

STATUS: Victory, California

On September 29, 2012, California Governor Jerry Brown signed the first law in the nation prohibiting state-licensed therapists from trying to change the sexual orientation or gender expression of a patient under 18 years old. Every leading medical and mental health organization in the country has warned that these practices do not work and put young people at risk of serious harm, including depression, substance abuse, and suicide. The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and Equality California, the state’s leading LGBT political organization, were the primary organizational sponsors of the law, which was authored by Senator Ted Lieu.

Anti-LGBT legal groups immediately filed two lawsuits challenging the law on behalf a group of plaintiffs who desire that California therapists be permitted to engage in the prohibited practices. The cases were Pickup et al. v. Brown et al. and Welch et al. v. Brown et al. These cases were both filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California and assigned to two different federal district judges. In October 2012, Equality California filed a successful motion to intervene in one of the lawsuits in order to defend the law alongside California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who represents the State of California defendants.

The plaintiffs in each case asked the judges to enter a preliminary injunction temporarily preventing the laws from going into effect while the lawsuits proceed. NCLR filed briefs on behalf of Equality California opposing a preliminary injunction in both cases.

On December 3, 2012, District Judge William Shubb entered an injunction temporarily preventing the law from being enforced against the three plaintiffs in the Welch v. Brown case. On December 4, 2012, District Judge Kimberly Mueller denied the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction in the Pickup v. Brown case. Judge Muller ruled that the plaintiffs had no likelihood of succeeding on their claims that the law is unconstitutional.

Both orders were appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. On January 30 and February 4, 2013, NCLR filed briefs in the two cases, arguing that the law should be upheld because it is a valid regulation of medical treatment that protects youth from long-discredited and dangerous practices. The State of California defendants and a diverse group of prominent mental health professional organizations and social services providers and scholars, including the California Psychological Association, the California Division of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, and the National Association of Social Workers, the City and County of San Francisco, and others, also urged the court to uphold the law.

The Ninth Circuit heard argument in the appeals on April 17, 2013. On August 29, 2013, the Ninth Circuit ruled that the law protecting minors from these practices may be enforced. The plaintiffs in the case asked the Supreme Court of the United States to review the Ninth Circuit’s decision. However, on June 30, 2014, the Supreme Court declined to grant review, sending the law into effect. NCLR and the law firm of Munger Tolles & Olson LLP represented Equality California.