A Judge Rules Trump Can't Stop Trans People From Enlisting In The Military On Jan. 1

by Jessicah Lahitou
Spencer Platt/Getty Images News/Getty Images

President Trump's ban on allowing transgender individuals to serve in the military hit another legal wall on Monday. U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, based in the District of Columbia, denied the administration's request to postpone an Obama-era Jan. 1 start date for transgender individuals to join the armed services. The ruling means transgender people can enlist in the military beginning on New Year's Day.

This isn't the first time Kollar-Kotelly has ruled against the Trump administration's opposition to transgender servicepeople. Back in October, Kollar-Kotelly became the first judge to block the transgender ban, arguing that discrimination against transgender individuals could be classified as "sex discrimination." Such a policy would be prohibited by the Fifth Amendment's equal protection, barring "exceedingly persuasive justification." Kollar-Kotelly did not think the Trump administration's arguments met that level of scrutiny, calling their rationale for the transgender ban "hypothetical and extremely overboard."

While Kollar-Kotelly's initial October ruling did not halt Trump's ban on enlisting transgender individuals, her latest injunction does.

Jennifer Levi of GLAD (GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders) told NBC News that this ruling was "an important clarification because it means the military can't do an end run around the judge's decision." Along with the National Center for Lesbian Rights, GLAD is representing five military servicepeople who are suing the administration over its transgender ban.

In a series of July tweets, Trump announced that the military would not "accept or allow" the presence of "[t]ransgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military." He then issued a presidential memo to the Department of Defense ordering them to reverse President Obama's policy of allowing transgender individuals to serve openly and receive related medical treatments.

Trump's ban didn't make it three months before meeting rebuke in Kollar-Kotelly's D.C. court ruling. And part of her argument against the adminstration was provided by Trump himself — Kollar-Kotelly noted his tweets matched the later presidential memorandum, but there were none of the usual studies or expert opinions usually included with such a massive policy shift. As Garrett Epps outlined at The Atlantic, "the judge concluded that Trump was likely acting purely out of hostility, or 'animus,' toward trans people."

U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis ruled in a similar vein against the Trump administration on its transgender military ban. In a separate case brought in Maryland by the American Civil Liberties Union, Garbis also referenced Trump's tweets as a relevant factor in evaluating this new policy directive. The judge even went so far as to include screenshots of the president's Twitter broadcast of his intention to remove transgender individuals from the military. In his written ruling, Garbis stated:

A capricious, arbitrary, and unqualified tweet of new policy does not trump the methodical and systematic review by military stakeholders qualified to understand the ramifications of policy changes.

Garbis and Kollar-Kotelly both seemed to agree that Trump's ban on transgender individuals sprang from personal biases, not evidence-backed research or rational arguments.

There is no word yet from the Trump administration following Kollar-Kotelly's ruling allowing the Jan. 1 open military enlistment for transgender individuals to go forward.

However, as the courts have ruled on the proposed transgender military ban, Laura Ehrsam, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department, has weighed in with variations of this statement:

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.

It may strike some as disingenuous to argue that transgender individuals who would be explicitly affected by Trump's change of policy — most obviously by losing their jobs — have not "established that they will be impacted." But opponents of Trump's ban can celebrate another win with Kollar-Kotelly's latest ruling allowing for the enlistment of transgender military servicepeople.