This Transgender Military Ban Update Puts The Brakes On Trump’s Plan — For Now

A federal judge has once again put a hold on President Donald Trump's ban on transgender individuals serving in the military. In a ruling issued late Friday, a judge decided Trump's revised ban on transgender troops wasn't too different from the administration's original ban, which had been blocked from taking effect last year. As a result the judge decided to keep previous injunctions issued against the ban in place and denied the Trump administration's motion to have legal challenges against the ban dismissed, the Huffington Post has reported.

U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman ruled Friday that injunctions issued to block Trump's transgender ban in December would remain in place as litigation continued as the Trump administration's revised ban wasn't significantly different. In March, President Trump had announced plans to implement a revised ban that would allow transgender people to serve in the military in "their biological sex." Although the Trump administration had argued their revised ban resolved the purported constitutional issues raised by critics of the ban by giving transgender people a way to openly serve in the military, Pechman's ruling noted "the Court concludes otherwise and rules that the preliminary injunction will remain in effect."

"The Court also rules that, because transgender people have long been subjected to systemic oppression and forced to live in silence, they are a protected class," Pechman wrote in her ruling. "Therefore, any attempt to exclude them from military service will be looked at with the highest level of care, and will be subject to the Court's 'strict scrutiny.'"

Pechman went on to say the court was "not persuaded" by the Trump administration's argument that the 2017 Memorandum issued by President Trump regarding a ban on transgender troops was different from the 2018 Memorandum and Implementation Plan. "Requiring transgender people to serve in their 'biological sex' does not constitute 'open' service in any meaningful way, and cannot reasonably be considered an exception to the ban," Pechman wrote. "Rather, it would force transgender service members to suppress the very characteristics that defines them as transgender in the first place. Therefore, the Court concludes that the 2018 Memorandum and Implementation Plan do not moot Plaintiffs' and Washington's existing challenges."

Pechman also wrote that the Trump administration would have to prove the ban was "sincerely motivated by compelling interests, rather than by prejudice or stereotype" before being allowed to implement the ban. President Trump has previously defended the ban with claims that transgender people in the military create a "burden" of "tremendous medical costs and disruption" and distract from victory. But Pechman appeared leery of that argument in her ruling Friday, comparing it to past justifications for older discriminatory military policies.

"The court notes that defendants' claimed justifications for the ban — to promote 'military lethality and readiness' and avoid ‘disrupt[ing] unit cohesion, or tax[ing] military resources' — are strikingly similar to justifications offered in the past to support the military's exclusion and segregation of African American service members, its 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy, and its policy preventing women from serving in combat roles," Pechman wrote in her ruling.

Last year, Pechman was one of four judges to issue injunctions against the Trump administration's original ban after a number of plaintiffs, including current and aspiring transgender service members and civil rights organizations like the Human Rights Campaign filed a lawsuit to challenge it. The plaintiffs have argued Trump's transgender ban violated the transgender people's First Amendment rights as well as equal protection and due process guarantees. LGBTQ advocacy groups Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN, which are representing the plaintiffs in the case, applauded Pechman's ruling and appeared confident about the future of their case in a joint press release put out Friday.

"Until the ban is put on trial, transgender people serving or wishing to serve in the military are protected by four separate court injunctions barring its implementation," Lambda Legal Senior Attorney Peter Renn said in a statement included in the press release. "If history is any prediction of the future, the ban is still doomed at its next reckoning."