2nd US judge halts proposed transgender military ban

November 21, 2017 - 6:17 pm

BALTIMORE (AP) — Another federal judge has halted a proposed transgender military ban, expanding on an initial ruling issued last month against the plan by President Donald Trump's administration.

In a preliminary injunction issued Tuesday in Baltimore, U.S. District Judge Marvin Garbis ruled that transgender service members have "demonstrated that they are already suffering harmful consequences" due to the proposed ban including threat of discharge, stigma and the cancellation or delay of surgeries related to their gender transitions. The six plaintiffs in the lawsuit he reviewed have all been receiving hormone therapy.

Trump had announced on Twitter in July that the government would not allow transgender individuals to serve in the military in any capacity. The order was a proposed reinstatement of a longstanding policy that barred transgender people from joining the military and also subjected service members to discharge if they were revealed to be transgender. That policy was changed last year under President Barack Obama.

But in a strongly-worded passage from his 53-page decision, Garbis wrote that the "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 change."

Last month, another federal judge, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly in Washington, barred Trump's administration from proceeding with the plans to exclude transgender people from military service. She said the administration had provided no solid evidence for why a ban should be implemented. In a court filing Tuesday, the government said it would appeal Kollar-Kotelly's ruling.

A U.S. Department of Justice spokeswoman, Lauren Ehrsam, said officials disagreed with Garbis' ruling and they are weighing their next steps.

"(The) 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," Ehrsam said in an email.

Trump sent an August memo directing the Pentagon to extend indefinitely a ban on transgender individuals joining the military, and gave Defense Secretary Jim Mattis six months to come up with a policy on "how to address" those who are currently serving.

A Pentagon spokesman, Mark Wright, said the Tuesday ruling will have no impact on current Defense Department policy.

"As directed by the DoD guidance, no action may be taken to involuntarily separate or discharge an otherwise qualified service member solely on the basis of a gender dysphoria diagnosis or transgender status," Wright said.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a motion for a preliminary injunction against the proposed ban in September, cheered the Tuesday ruling. The lawsuit reviewed by the Baltimore judge was filed by the ACLU on behalf of six transgender members of the armed forces.

"Today is a victory for transgender service members across the country," senior ACLU staff attorney Joshua Block said in a statement. "We're pleased that the courts have stepped in to ensure that trans service members are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve." 

The proposed ban remains unenforceable under the preliminary injunctions.

The Trump administration's transgender ban was also being argued in federal court in Seattle on Tuesday in a case brought by gay rights group Lambda Legal, with a judge grilling a Justice Department lawyer over the president's intent and over how his directive has already affected transgender troops.

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Associated Press writers Robert Burns and Jessica Gresko in Washington and Gene Johnson in Seattle contributed to this report.

David McFadden on Twitter: www.twitter.com/dmcfadd

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