Lawyers for Donald Trump’s administration are citing the recent Supreme Court ruling upholding his Muslim travel ban in an effort to avoid releasing documents related to the transgender military ban.
The high court last month upheld the latest version of the travel ban, which bars people from several nations, most of them with majority Muslim populations, from entering the U.S. The justices ruled that anti-Muslim statements made by Trump were not relevant to the ban. Now Justice Department lawyers want to withhold documents that might show animus toward transgender people, arguing that this information is irrelevant to the military ban, the Bloomberg news service reports.
The lawyers filed papers making this argument Monday in the Seattle-based U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, where one of four suits against the trans ban is being heard. It and three other courts have blocked the ban while the cases proceed.
Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN, which filed the Washington suit on behalf of several current and aspiring trans military members, want the administration to turn over documents that might show Trump’s intent in imposing the ban, which he announced via Twitter almost a year ago. In February, the Department of Defense followed up with a memo outlining the administration’s justification for the ban, and the memo was approved by Trump in March.
Vice President Mike Pence, known for his anti-LGBT positions, reportedly championed the transgender ban and consulted with religious right leaders on it. But it should be judged on the same terms as the travel ban, the Justice Department said in its filing. The Supreme Court ruling on the travel ban “instructs that the court must assess the 2018 policy on its own terms, rather than assessing purported intent behind the policy based on prior statements,” the Justice Department said, according to Bloomberg. “Such alleged animus is not pertinent to review of the military’s new policy.”
The administration has argued previously that the policy outlined in the memo is a new one that supersedes Trump’s Twitter announcement and therefore should not be subject to the court's block, but Judge Marsha Pechman, who is hearing the Washington case, ruled that the policies are one and the same.
“The court should focus on the stated justifications for the policy,” the Justice Department’s filing continued, rather than “any underlying presidential statements or deliberations.”
Peter Renn, Lambda Legal’s lead attorney in the case, did not think the Justice Department’s argument would persuade Pechman. “The Supreme Court found that the travel ban was neutral on its face toward religion,” he told Bloomberg. “The ban on military service openly targets transgender people, without any attempt to hide the government’s discrimination. Had the travel ban instead been titled, the ‘Muslim Admission Policy,’ there’s no question that the case would have come out differently.”