U.S. soldiers completing a military exercise – Photo: Spc. Marcus Floyd, via Wikimedia.
On Tuesday, a federal judge rejected the Trump administration’s effort to shield correspondence related to its decision to push for a ban on transgender military members, ruling that the administration must turn over documents related to its decision-making process.
U.S. Magistrate Judge A. David Copperthite found that the documents sought by the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing six transgender service members in the case of Stone v. Trump, were relevant to the case and determining “whether [the ban] was for military purposes or whether it was purely for political and discriminatory purposes.”
“Defendants asset that the deliberative process privilege applies to the categories of documents Plaintiffs are asking the court to compel. Plaintiffs argue that this privilege does not apply at all when a plaintiff’s cause of action turns on the government’s intent,” Copperthite wrote. “The Court agrees with Plaintiffs that each of the categories of compelled documents is likely to contain evidence reflecting Defendants’ intent. It also could not be more clear that Defendants’ intent — whether it was for military purposes or whether it was purely for political and discriminatory purposes — is at the very heart of this litigation.”
In his ruling, Copperthite wrote that the Obama administration, prior to removing the previously existing prohibition on transgender troops in 2016, did extensive studies examining the impact of allowing transgender individuals to serve before reaching a final decision. Noting that those studies found no justifiable reason why transgender service members should not be allowed to serve openly, Copperthite opined: “It is hard for this Court to believe circumstances involving readiness and deployability have changed so dramatically since that time.”
Copperthite partially rejected the Trump administration’s request for a protective order, staying it with respect to President Trump — with the possibility of revisiting it later — and rejecting it with respect to other parties involved in the decision-making process of whether to implement the transgender ban.
That means that the administration, though not President Trump directly, has to provide documentation or correspondence related to the justification for the ban.
The ruling serves as a small victory for LGBTQ advocates, who have long alleged that President Trump was influenced by political advisors or conservative activists in implementing the ban, rather than military leaders concerned about military readiness and deployability.
“President Tump banned transgender people from serving in the military and then ordered the Department of Defense to come up with pretext to justify that discriminatory decision,” Joshua Block, a senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT & HIV Project, said in a statement.
“Today’s decision makes clear that the Trump Administration cannot continue to hide the true reasons behind its crusade to purge transgender people from the military. These brave men and women should be able to continue serving their country ably and honorably without being discriminated against by their own commander-in-chief.”