Second Judge Blocks Trump’s Transgender Ban in the Military

WASHINGTON — A second federal judge blocked the Trump administration’s proposed ban on transgender troops Tuesday, saying President Trump’s announcement of the ban in a series of tweets this summer was “capricious, arbitrary, and unqualified.”

In a preliminary injunction, Judge Marvin J. Garbis of the Federal District Court for Maryland halted a policy that would have discharged all current transgender troops and barred prospective ones from enlisting, saying it likely violated equal protection provisions of the Constitution.

Judge Garbis’s 53-page order went further than a similar ruling last month by Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, which also said the ban likely violated the Constitution. “There is absolutely no support for the claim that the ongoing service of transgender people would have any negative effective on the military at all,” the ruling said.

But while Judge Kollar-Kotelly did not specifically block a Trump administration policy prohibiting gender-reassignment surgery for service members at the government’s expense, Judge Garbis’s order does.

The ruling leaves in place an Obama-era policy, announced in 2016, that allows transgender troops to serve openly and receive the required medical care for their gender transition through the military. Shortly after the ruling the Trump administration appealed last month’s decision, signaling it would continue to press for the removal of transgender troops.

In July, Mr. Trump said on Twitter that the military could not afford the “tremendous medical costs and disruption” of transgender troops, and that the government “will not accept or allow them to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.” A presidential memorandum released in August said all transgender service troops would be discharged.

Judge Marvin Garbis in 2012.CreditPaul Sakuma/Associated Press

The announcement blindsided top military leaders, who had been moving ahead with plans to integrate transgender troops, based on a 2016 study commissioned by the military that found that allowing transgender people to serve openly would “have minimal impact on readiness and health care costs” for the Pentagon.

A number of service members immediately filed suit, arguing the new policies were discriminatory. The plaintiffs in Judge Garbis’s suit included a Navy computer analyst who planned to make the military his career, an Air Force suicide prevention officer who was recently named “Airman of the Year,” and an Army cavalry scout set to begin drill sergeant school in January. Many have been deployed to Afghanistan. In recent months, they have seen their lives sidelined and surgeries canceled.

In siding with the plaintiffs, Judge Garbis, who was nominated to the court by President George Bush, said the troops had shown they were “already suffering harmful consequences such as the cancellation and postponements of surgeries, the stigma of being set apart as inherently unfit, facing the prospect of discharge and inability to commission as an officer, the inability to move forward with long-term medical plans, and the threat to their prospects of obtaining long-term assignments.”

There are an estimated 2,000 to 11,000 active-duty transgender service members, according to a 2016 RAND Corporation study commissioned by the Pentagon. Providing health care would cost $2.4 million to $8.4 million a year, increasing military health care spending by about 0.1 percent, according to a Department of Defense study. The RAND study also projected “little or no impact on unit cohesion, operational effectiveness or readiness.”

The Justice Department sought to have the case dismissed this month, arguing that since no troops had been discharged, a decision was premature. Judge Garbis rejected the argument, saying that under the current policy transgender troops had already felt the impact through stigma, canceled medical procedures and lost promotions.

The Justice Department expressed disappointment. “We disagree with the court’s ruling and are currently evaluating the next steps,” said a spokeswoman, Lauren Ehrsam, who added that the ruling was premature because the Defense Department was still reviewing its transgender policy.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the suit on behalf of six service members, said the ruling was a victory over what it called in a statement “uninformed speculation, myths and stereotypes.”

“Today is a victory for transgender service members across the country,” said Joshua Block, who represented the service members. “We’re pleased that the courts have stepped in to ensure that trans service members are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.”

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