Michelle-Lael Norsworthy
Michelle-Lael Norsworthy is serving a life sentence in a prison in Ione, California California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

California authorities have moved in court to challenge a judge's ruling that the state provide an immediate sex-reassignment operation for one of its transgender inmates.

The state attorney general's office is asking a federal apppeals court for a preliminary injunction that would delay surgery for Michelle-Lael Norsworthy, 51, who was born Jeffrey Bryan Norsworthy. Norsworthy began identifying as a woman in the 1990s and was diagnosed with gender dysphoria in 2000, reports the Los Angeles Times.

If the surgery goes ahead it will be the first time in state prison history, and could cost up to $100,000 (£$66,000).

"Evidence showed that there was no medical or psychological need for immediate sex-reassignment surgery," the state said in court documents. The state also argued that Norsworthy had already received substantial treatment.

"Although the district court rested its ruling on a purported violation of the Eighth Amendment's proscription against cruel and unusual punishment, the record shows that Ms. Norsworthy has received extensive medical and mental-health treatment for her gender dysphoria for over 15 years," said the filing.

But the lower US District Court ruled that Norsworthy's gender dysphoria would suffer "irreparable injury as a result of the deprivation of her 8th Amendment rights."

Norsworthy, who's serving a life sentence on a murder conviction, brought an initial action in court saying her constitutional rights were being violated because the state was not providing the surgery. California authorities have already appealed the decision in her favor, but are now asking for time to argue the case, rather than providing surgery first.

The California Department of Corrections argued that Norsworthy has been treated for gender dysphoria for over 20 years, and "there is no indication that her condition has somehow worsened to the point where she must obtain sex-reassignment surgery now rather than waiting until this case produces a final judgment on the merits."

The San Francisco judge ordering the surgery is only the second in the nation to order a state prison system to do so. A similar Massachusetts order was overturned by a higher court and the US Supreme Court let that rejection stand without comment this week.