Trump mil­i­tary trans­gen­der ban wins round in court

Groups that protested pol­icy de­nounce rul­ing

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - FRONT PAGE - Richard Wolf and Tom Van­den Brook

WASH­ING­TON – A pow­er­ful fed­eral ap­peals court in the na­tion’s cap­i­tal sided with the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion Fri­day on its mil­i­tary trans­gen­der ban, but other courts’ block­ades of the pol­icy re­main in ef­fect.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Ap­peals for the Dis­trict of Columbia Cir­cuit ruled that the par­tial ban an­nounced by the Pen­tagon, but never im­ple­mented, should not have been blocked by a dis­trict court while it was be­ing chal­lenged.

The three judges on the panel were ap­pointed by Pres­i­dents Ron­ald Rea- gan, Ge­orge W. Bush and Barack Obama.

In re­vers­ing one of four fed­eral courts to have blocked the pol­icy, the panel rea­soned that it was not a “blan­ket ban” and had been fine-tuned by Pen­tagon of­fi­cials over a pe­riod of months. Con­sid­er­able def­er­ence is owed the ex­ec­u­tive branch on mil­i­tary de­ci­sions, it said.

“The govern­ment took sub­stan­tial steps to cure the pro­ce­dural de­fi­cien­cies the court iden­ti­fied in the en­joined 2017 pres­i­den­tial mem­o­ran­dum,” the panel said.

The par­tial ban “plau­si­bly re­lies upon the ‘con­sid­ered pro­fes­sional judg­ment’

of ‘ap­pro­pri­ate mil­i­tary of­fi­cials,’ and ap­pears to per­mit some trans­gen­der in­di­vid­u­als to serve in the mil­i­tary,” it said.

The pol­icy, which re­versed one al­low­ing trans­gen­der ser­vice un­der the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, was an­nounced by Trump in a July 2017 tweet. He said trans­gen­der troops were no longer wel­come in the mil­i­tary, and that the mil­i­tary would no longer pay for their surg­eries.

Pen­tagon lead­ers un­der for­mer De­fense Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis re­sponded by re­as­sur­ing trans­gen­der troops that they would not be kicked out and that their med­i­cal care would not be in­ter­rupted un­til a new pol­icy was cre­ated. The for­mal plan was an­nounced last spring and in­cluded ex­cep­tions for those al­ready serv­ing and oth­ers who are not tran­si­tion­ing to the op­po­site sex.

Four fed­eral dis­trict courts blocked the pol­icy from go­ing into ef­fect, and even while ap­peals courts have been con­sid­er­ing it, the Jus­tice Depart­ment asked the Supreme Court to weigh in. The jus­tices will con­sider that re­quest at their pri­vate con­fer­ence next Fri­day.

Dozens of trans­gen­der re­cruits have signed up since be­com­ing el­i­gi­ble Jan. 1, 2018.

There are be­lieved to be as many as sev­eral thou­sand trans­gen­der troops among the ac­tive-duty force of more than 1 mil­lion troops, ac­cord­ing to a RAND Corp. study com­mis­sioned by the Pen­tagon in 2016.

The two groups that filed the orig­i­nal case against the ban crit­i­cized the cir­cuit court’s rul­ing.

“To­day’s rul­ing is a dev­as­tat­ing slap in the face to trans­gen­der ser­vice mem­bers who have proved their fit­ness to serve and their ded­i­ca­tion to this coun­try,” said Shan­non Min­ter, le­gal di­rec­tor at the Na­tional Cen­ter for Les­bian Rights.

“To­day’s de­ci­sion is based on the ab­surd idea that forc­ing trans­gen­der peo­ple to sup­press who they are in or­der to serve is not a ban,” said Jen­nifer Levi, trans­gen­der rights project di­rec­tor at GLBTQ Le­gal Ad­vo­cates & De­fend­ers (GLAD).

AP

Protesters gath­ered in New York City’s Times Square when the ban was an­nounced in June 2017.

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