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 Reagan, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
In reversing one of four federal courtsto 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 uponthe ‘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 one 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).
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