WASHINGTON – A federal judge on Monday partially blocked enforcement of key provisions of President Donald Trump’s memorandum banning transgender people serving in the military.
Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly blocked provisions of the memorandum concerning the enlistment and retention of transgender military service members, holding that the plaintiffs “have established that they will be injured by these directives, due both to the inherent inequality they impose, and the risk of discharge and denial of accession that they engender. ”
The judge also blasted Trump’s initial abrupt announcement via Twitter that came “without any of the formality or deliberative processes that generally accompany the development and announcement of major policy changes that will gravely affect the lives of many Americans.”
In partially granting a preliminary injunction pending appeal, the judge said the plaintiffs — current and aspiring service members who are transgender — are “likely to succeed” on their due process claims.
The judge said that the effect of her order was to “revert to the status quo” that existed before the memo that was issued August 25. The memo indefinitely extended a prohibition against transgender individuals entering the military and it required the military to authorize, by no later than March 23, 2018, the discharge of transgender service members.
Trump administration lawyers had asked the judge to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that it was premature because the Pentagon is currently studying how to implement the President’s directive and no action would be taken until after the policy review is completed.
They also argued that “federal courts owe the utmost deference to the political branches in the field of national defense and military affairs, both because the Constitution commits military decisions exclusively to those branches and because courts have less competence to second-guess military decision making.”
But Kollar-Kotelly, of the US District Court for the District of Columbia, declined to wait, ruling that even though the policy was still subject to review, the government’s arguments “wither away under scrutiny.”
“The Memorandum unequivocally directs the military to prohibit indefinitely the accession of transgender individuals and to authorize their discharge,” she wrote, “this decision has already been made.”
Justice Department spokeswoman Lauren Ehrsam said, “we disagree with the court’s ruling and are currently evaluating the next steps.”
Ehrsam added: “Plaintiffs’ lawsuit challenging military service requirements is premature for many reasons, including that the Defense Department is actively reviewing such service requirements, as the President ordered, and because none of the Plaintiffs have established that they will be impacted by current policies on military service.”
Harsh words for Trump’s tweets
Kollar-Kotelly also had harsh words for the administration, highlighting the “unusual circumstances surrounding the President’s announcement” of the ban that initially came in a July 26 tweet and the fact that the “reasons given to them do not appear to be supported by any facts.”
In her 76-page opinion, she actually posted a screen grab of the President’s tweets on the subject.
“After Consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military,” read one July 26 tweet.
And Kollar-Kotelly said that the President’s decision was not supported by the facts.
“All of the reasons proffered by the President for excluding transgender individuals from the military in this case were not merely unsupported, but were actually contradicted by the studies, conclusions and judgment of the military itself,” she wrote.
Shannon Minter, a plaintiffs’ lawyer and legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, called the ruling “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.”
“Although this ruling is very preliminary, it’s significant in at least two respects,” said Steve Vladeck, CNN legal analyst and professor at the University of Texas School of Law. “First, it is based on the judge’s conclusion that the Constitution in some way limits the government’s ability to discriminate against transgendered individuals. Second, it once again recognizes that the President’s words (and tweets) have consequences, especially when those words are turned into official policy.”