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Pentagon will hold off on transgender troops ban despite Supreme Court ruling

The Pentagon. (Senior Airman Perry Aston/Defense Department)

The Pentagon will not immediately implement President Donald Trump’s ban on transgender men and women serving in the military, the Defense Department said Wednesday, one day after the Supreme Court removed some legal roadblocks that have stalled the controversial policy.

The Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision on Tuesday removed preliminary injunctions that for more than a year halted the Pentagon from implementing the so-called “Mattis Plan,” a policy penned by former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis at Trump’s direction that would ban most transgender men and women from enlisting in the military. However, one such preliminary injunction issued by a federal judge overseeing a discrimination lawsuit in Maryland remained in place as of Wednesday, said Air Force Lt. Col. Carla Gleason, a Pentagon spokeswoman.

The Department of Justice “is seeking relief from this remaining injunction in light of the Supreme Court’s action, but at present it remains in place,” Gleason said. She stressed as of Wednesday that the Pentagon continued to operate under the Defense Department’s 2016 policy, which opened military service to transgender men and women and allowed them to enlist starting Jan. 1, 2018.

“The Department [of Defense] is consulting with the Department of Justice on next steps in the litigation,” Gleason said. “We look forward to continuing to press our case in the courts.”

A White House effort to ban transgender people from military service has been mired in confusion and litigation since Trump’s surprise announcement in July 2017 via Twitter that he would no longer allow transgender people to serve. The directive – made formal in a White House order about one month later – came without any apparent consultation among top Pentagon officials and was decried by Democratic lawmakers and advocates for transgender individuals as a political move.

Mattis’ plan was issued in March 2018 and claimed open service by transgender men and women could undermine the military’s combat readiness. It sought to exclude transgender individuals who had undergone a sex transition or were seeking to transition from their biological gender from joining the military. However, it granted exceptions for active-duty servicemembers who had already identified themselves as transgender. Officials said there were about 900 such servicemembers in the military now.

In separate statements Tuesday, the Justice Department and Pentagon lauded the Supreme Court decision.

The Defense Department urged the courts to allow the Pentagon to implement its policies, saying it was “critical … to ensure the most lethal and combat effective fighting force in the world.”

The Supreme Court’s vote Tuesday followed political lines and was slammed by LGBTQ rights groups.

Lamda Legal and OutServe-SLDN, the organization that filed the first challenge to the ban in U.S. District Court in Seattle, criticized the decision as “perplexing” and disappointing.”

“For more than 30 months, transgender troops have been serving our country openly with valor and distinction, but now the rug has been ripped out from under them, once again,” Lambda Legal Counsel Peter Renn said. “We will redouble our efforts to send this discriminatory ban to the trash heap of history where it belongs.”

Court cases challenging the ban were moving forward in Washington state, California, the District of Columbia and Maryland, and a trial was slated for later this year for at least one of the cases.


© 2019 the Stars and Stripes

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