A federal court has blocked Donald Trump's plan to reinstate the ban on military service by transgender people.
Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled today that military members who sued to stop the ban were likely to succeed, and she issued a prelimiary injunction preventing the Trump administration from reinstating it as litigation against it proceeds, the Associated Press reports. Kollar-Kotelly said the ban likely violates the Fifth Amendement to the U.S. Constitution; the amendment guarantees the right to due process of law.
Kollar-Kotelly's injunction came in a suit filed in August by the National Center for Lesbian Rights and GLBTQ Advocates and Defenders on behalf of trans service members and trans people enrolled in academic military training programs. It was the first of several legal challenges to the ban.
Trump announced the ban via Twitter July 26, reversing an action of the Obama administration that allowed trans troops to serve openly. He then issued guidelines for implementation of the ban, including separation of trans military members who are currently serving, and the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security have been working on the implementation, due to take full effect March 23. Enlistment of new trans troops was already blocked, but Kollar-Kotelly's decision means transgender people can enlist in the milirary as of January 1. The Obama administration had intended for new enlistments to start July 1 of this year, but James Mattis, Trump's secretary of Defense, had delayed that until January 1 before it was blocked indefinitely by the president. The indefinite block is now lifted. In addition, trans service members can receive all medically necessary health care, including transition-related procedures.
Trump had no justification for issuing the ban, Kollar-Kotelly wrore in her 26-page opinion. "Defendants argue that the military's previous study of transgender service cannot forever bind future administrations from looking into the issue themselves," she wrote. "The Court fully agrees with this point. The Court by no means suggests that it was not within the President's authority to order that additional studies be undertaken and that this policy be reevaluated. If the President had done so and then decided that banning all transgender individuals from serving in the military was beneficial to the various military objectives cited, this would be a different case. But as discussed above, that is not the case before the Court. The Court can only assess Plaintiffs' equal protection claim based on the facts before it. At this time, it appears that the rights of a class of individuals were summarily and abruptly revoked for reasons contrary to the only then-available studies. As explained above, based on the cumulative effect of various unusual facts, the Court is convinced that Plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their Fifth Amendment claim. This finding in no way should be interpreted to prevent Defendants from continuing to study issues surrounding the service of transgender individuals in the military, as they have asserted that they intend to do." She also held that the service members who sued demonstrated that they were likely to suffer "irreparable injurty" if the ban was not halted.
"This is a complete victory for our plaintiffs and all transgender service members, who are now once again able to serve on equal terms and without the threat of being discharged," said Shannon Minter, NCLR's legal director, in a press release. "We are grateful to the court for recognizing the gravity of these issues and putting a stop to this dangerous policy, which has wreaked havoc in the lives of transgender service members and their families."
"This court saw straight through the smokescreen the government tried to create to hide the bias and prejudice behind Trump's change in military policy. This clear, powerful ruling confirms that there is no legitimate reason to exclude transgender people from military service," said Jennifer Levi, director of GLAD's Transgender Rights Project, in the same release. "Fighting discrimination isn't easy, and to all the transgender members of the armed forces or those looking to join, I want to say thank you for your courage, not only in fighting for our country, but in fighting for the constitutional values of equality and justice."
The decision returns the military policy to what stood before Trump's announcement, Minter added in a conference call with reporters. The judge "basically wiped the slate clean," he said.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which has filed another of the suits on behalf of trans troops, issued a statement hailing Kollar-Kotelly's injunction. "This is the first decision striking down President Trump's ban, but it won't be the last. The federal courts are recognizing what everyone already knows to be true: President Trump's impulsive decision to ban on transgender people from serving in the military service was blatantly unconstitutional," said Joshua Block, senior staff attorney with the ACLU's LGBT & HIV Project. "As all of these cases move forward, we will continue to work to ensure that transgender service members are treated with the equal treatment they deserve."
Sarah Kate Ellis, presiden and CEO of GLAAD, released this statement: "The U.S. District Court's temporary halt of the trans military ban is a major step forward in exposing President Trump's policy as a hate-fueled attack on some of the bravest Americans who serve and protect our nation. Today's victory reflects what a majority of Americans have been saying: that transgender service members should be thanked and not relegated to second-class citizenship."
Human Rights Campaign legal director Sarah Warbelow also reacted: "Today's preliminary injunction is an important step in the ongoing efforts to protect transgender service members from the dangerous and discriminatory policies of Donald Trump and Mike Pence. Donald Trump's erratic tweets and half-baked orders disrespect the bravery of the countless transgender people who have fought, and in many cases died, for their country. The immediate harm to our national defense and to the thousands of transgender people serving and wishing to serve their country must be stopped -- and we are grateful that a federal judge has blocked this administration from discharging any qualified individuals because of their gender identity while these cases continue to make their way through the courts."
Added Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality: "Again and again, our courts have been forced to step in and halt this administration's unconstitutional and dangerous bigotry. As today's ruling makes clear, this ban was never about military readiness -- just like President Trump's Muslim bans have never been about national security. This ban is about discrimination, plain and simple. We are grateful that the plaintiffs and thousands of other troops will be able to continue serving without the threat of discharge while this case proceeds. Unfortunately, this ruling is not the end of the story, and these troops and their units will still face uncertainty unless Congress acts to end this ban for good."
Alliance for Justice president Nan Aron released this statement: "Our federal courts are a critical line of defense against President Trump's harmful, discriminatory agenda, and today we have more proof. It is very heartening to see Judge Kollar-Kotelly's ruling today, which is a direct rebuke to President Trump's bigoted and ill-advised attempt to shut transgender members out of our military. As the judge noted, such a ban would likely deprive transgender service members of Fifth Amendment rights and have a negative effect on our military. In spite of the Trump Administration's ongoing efforts to roll back LGBTQ rights, we are confident that the courts will ultimately uphold transgender military members' right to serve our country. President Trump has repeatedly nominated to the courts individuals whose records demonstrate they will erode LGBTQ rights and will not be an independent check on the Administration. Cases like this demonstrate why it is so important that the Senate not rubber stamp Trump's nominees."
This came from Lambda Legal senior attorney Peter Renn: "The court's ruling is a great step forward in ensuring transgender people who are currently serving or want to serve are able to, and we are grateful to and congratulate our colleagues at NCLR and GLAD for their work in achieving the first ruling stating that the ban is unconstitutional. The work is not finished until the ban is permanently overturned. We will continue our fight for our clients, in our own case set for hearing later this month." Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN have filed another of the suits against the ban. A fourth one has come from Equality California.
And this from Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, a think talk on sexual minorities in the military: "President Trump's attempt to ban honorably serving transgender troops was a ham-handed effort to prioritize politics and outdated culture-war values over the constitution, military readiness and the weight of empirical evidence. Transgender troops have been serving openly in the U.S. military for more than a year, and have been widely praised by commanders. Today's court order should ensure that, at least for the time being, they can continue to focus on their jobs and protecting our country.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders, asked about the injunction at today's press briefing, referred all questions to the Justice Department, which so far has declined media requests for comment. The injunction can be appealed.
In any event, "today's decision is a big boost of encouragement to our service members," said Blake Dremann, director of LGBT military group SPARTA, on the conference call. Minter added, "This is an important ruling from a very important court."
It also bodes well for the other suits challenging the ban, Matt Thorn, president and CEO of OutServe-SLDN, told The Advocate. "We're very happy with the decision that was reached today," he said. "We hope other courts use the same reasoning or go even further." As the various cases are heard, he said, "it's more opportunity to show just how discrimiinatory this is."