U.S. soldiers completing a military exercise – Photo: Spc. Marcus Floyd, via Wikimedia.
The Department of Justice has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review three preliminary federal district court rulings blocking the Trump administration from implementing a ban on transgender individuals serving in the U.S. military.
The three cases in question are Doe v. Trump, a case out of U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Stockman v. Trump, a case out of California, and Karnoski v. Trump, a case out of the Western District of Washington.
The government filed a writ of certiorari asking the high court to weigh in on whether the Pentagon can implement its “Deploy or Get Out” policy, which would allow the military to forcibly expel transgender individuals who suffer from gender dysphoria under the contention that they are unable to be deployed at a moment’s notice.
In each of the three rulings, federal judges have ruled that the plaintiffs, which include several transgender service members, prospective recruits, and LGBTQ organizations, are likely to succeed in convincing the courts that the transgender military ban is both discriminatory and would cause the plaintiffs irreparable harm if allowed to go forward. Oral arguments in Doe are currently scheduled for Dec. 10 in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
LGBTQ groups blasted the administration’s attempt to circumvent the lower courts, which have not even ruled on the merits of the cases before them, by appealing to the conservative-led U.S. Supreme Court in hopes they will stay the injunctions currently in place.
“Today, the U.S. Department of Justice announced its intent to short-circuit established practice, asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review a preliminary district court ruling before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has even had an opportunity to rule,” Peter Renn, counsel with Lambda Legal, which is representing plaintiffs in the Karnoski case, said in a statement.
“This highly unusual step is wildly premature and inappropriate, both because there is no final judgment in the case, and because even the preliminary issue on appeal has not yet been decided,” Renn added. “It seems the Trump administration can’t wait to discriminate. Yet again, the Trump administration flouts established norms and procedures. There is no valid reason to jump the line now and seek U.S. Supreme Court review before the appellate courts have even ruled on the preliminary issues before them.”
Andy Blevins, the executive director of OutServe-SLDN, which has partnered with Lambda Legal in the Karnoski case, called the administration’s actions “unconscionable,” arguing that the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals should first rule on the government’s motions to appeal the judges’ rulings.
“The Trump-Pence administration’s desperate desire to discriminate against transgender service members knows no bounds,” HRC National Press Secretary Sarah McBride said in a statement. “The administration is in a rush because they know that every day that transgender people continue to enlist and serve with distinction is another day that the courts and the public see this irrational policy for what it is.”
Jennifer Levi, director of the Transgender Rights Project for GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders — which is co-counsel in the Doe and Stockman cases — echoed similar sentiments, saying there is no urgent reason for the Supreme Court to weigh in before lower courts have ruled on the legality of banning transgender individuals from serving.
“The great majority of people in this country recognize that transgender people who can meet the same standards as others should have an equal opportunity to serve,” Shannon Minter, the legal director of the Center for Lesbian Rights, the other co-counsel in Doe and Stockman, added. “Allowing President Trump’s ban to be implemented would upend thousands of lives and weaken our Armed Forces.”
Rick Zbur, the executive director of Equality California, one of the organizational plaintiffs in the Stockman case, noted that there are thousands of transgender service members currently serving with distinction and said that the Trump administration “ought to be thanking [transgender service members] for their service — not trying to score political points by purging them from our military.”
The Trevor Project, the largest suicide prevention organization for LGBTQ youth, has previously noted that there is a link between anti-LGBTQ rhetoric or anti-LGBTQ government-sponsored actions and rates of suicidal ideation. Many advocates for LGBTQ youth fear that the push to ban transgender military members will have a similarly disastrous effect on gender-expansive youth.
For example, amid the controversy over President Donald Trump’s announcement of the transgender military ban, as well as the introduction of a “bathroom bill” targeting trans youth in the Texas legislature, The Trevor Project received more than double the amount of crisis contacts from transgender and gender-nonconforming youth. The organization also reported a spike in crisis contacts following a report on the Trump administration’s push to define gender as fixed, immutable, and based on one’s assigned sex at birth — a move critics say is an attempt to erase all recognition of transgender people and deny them certain legal protections.
“Attempting to implement a policy that excludes transgender people from service tells them that they are not worthy be a part of their nation, and the harmful public rhetoric around these policies have real world consequences,” Amit Paley, the CEO and executive director of The Trevor Project, said in a statement.
“It’s important for transgender people to know that no proposed policy can change their value, whether they choose to serve in the military or not,” Paley added. “The Trevor Project will continue fighting for the safety of LGBTQ young people, and we will always be here for transgender youth in crisis to let them know they deserve respect, their lives have value, and that they are never alone.”