Trump’s Plan to Ban Transgender Military Personnel Hits a Roadblock

President Trump at a tax reform event Aug. 30. President Trump at a tax reform event Aug. 30. Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian

A federal court on Monday gave opponents of President Trump’s effort to ban transgender personnel from serving in the military a partial victory, creating another setback for Trump’s efforts to roll back many of his predecessor’s policies.

In a 76-page opinion, Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, said the Trump administration could not implement its transgender ban until a lawsuit filed by transgender service members is resolved. However, Judge Kollar-Kotelly said the Defense Department did not have to cover the cost of gender reassignment surgery in the meantime, as the plaintiffs had requested.    

The case stems from tweets Trump made on July 26 that read:

“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. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming.........victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you”

At the time, the Pentagon was reviewing the department’s transgender policy, which had been developed but not yet fully implemented during the Obama administration. While the military services had previously said they would not discharge or deny reenlistment to transgender service members on that basis alone, Defense Secretary James Mattis delayed the policy’s full implementation, slated for July 1, after requesting a six-month review.

Trump’s tweets sent that deliberative process into a tailspin, prompting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford the following day to send a letter to service leaders assuring them that transgender personnel could continue to serve, at least until the White House actually sent the Pentagon a new policy and the department had a chance to develop guidelines for implementing it. That didn’t happen until Aug. 25, giving the department until next February to figure out how to implement the ban. In the meantime, the transgender service members’ lawsuit makes that timeframe unlikely.

In her opinion, Judge Kollar-Kotelly said she believes the administration likely violated transgender service members’ Fifth Amendment rights to due process under the law.

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