Federal judge defies Trump admin, removes Pentagon block on funds for gender reassignment
A federal judge in Maryland issued a temporary halt Tuesday on President Trump’s new policy to prohibit the Pentagon from paying for gender-reassignment treatments for service members.
U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis is the second federal judge to issue a ruling in favor of transgender troops, who challenged the Trump administration’s proposal to oust transgender service members from the military.
The other ruling from Washington, D.C., halted Mr. Trump’s plans to stop accepting transgender troops, but Judge Garbis went further, saying the challengers showed they already are being harmed by the government’s refusal to pay for reassignment treatments.
“They are 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,” Judge Garbis wrote in his 53-page order.
Mr. Trump’s decision was an effort to reverse an Obama-era change that allowed transgender troops to serve. On July 26, he abruptly announced via Twitter that he had decided to reimpose a prohibition, then issued a more formal memo laying out his policy decision on Aug. 25.
The memo called for halting “accession” of new transgender troops, and gave the Pentagon until early 2018 to come up with a policy for how to discharge transgender troops already serving.
Judge Garbis said Mr. Trump’s odd announcement was a major strike against him, suggesting the policy change wasn’t driven by genuine concerns about the military and amounted to unconstitutional denial of due process rights.
The Republican-appointed judge wrote that he agreed with the Trump administration’s claims that deference is owed to military personnel decisions, but he said he took into consideration a brief filed by retired military officers in which they said no such deference was warranted “in light of the absence of any considered military policymaking process, and the sharp departure from decades of precedent on the approach of the U.S. military to major personnel policy changes.”
Judge Garbis even highlighted Mr. Trump’s tweets on the policy in screenshots included in his ruling.
“A capricious, arbitrary, and unqualified tweet of new policy does not trump the methodical and systematic review by military stakeholders qualified to understand the ramifications of policy changes,” Judge Garbis wrote.
The Justice Department had argued that Mr. Trump’s tweets and the August memo weren’t actually a policy decision but rather a directive to the Pentagon to study the matter further.
Judge Garbis disagreed, saying the memo is “an order to implement the directives contained therein.” His preliminary injunction will block the policy from going into effect while the court case progresses.
The Justice Department disagrees with the court’s ruling and is evaluating its next steps in the case, said spokeswoman Lauren Ehrsam.
“Plaintiffs’ lawsuit challenging military service requirements is premature for many reasons, including that the Defense Department is actively reviewing such service requirements, as the president ordered, and because none of the plaintiffs have established that they will be impacted by current policies on military service,” she said.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the legal challenge, praised the judge’s decision as a huge win.
“Today is a victory for transgender service members across the country,” said Joshua Block, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s LGBT & HIV Project. “We’re pleased that the courts have stepped in to ensure that trans service members are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.”
Judge Garbis set a hearing for Dec. 15 to establish a timetable for future hearings in the case.
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