For transgender Americans seeking to enlist in the military, the coming new year will mark a major victory in a long, senseless battle started by President Donald Trump.
On Monday, openly transgender people will be allowed to begin signing up for the military after the Justice Department announced that it will not challenge previous court rulings on Trump’s transgender ban in the Supreme Court.
Instead, the Justice Department will let the issue play out in district courts, but those efforts likely will become irrelevant after the Jan. 1 date for beginning to allow trans recruits to sign up. And the Trump administration already has been on the losing end of several rulings in district courts.
In a statement to BuzzFeed on Friday night, the Justice Department said:
The Department of Defense has announced that it will be releasing an independent study of these issues in the coming weeks. So rather than litigate this interim appeal before that occurs, the administration has decided to wait for DOD’s study and will continue to defend the President’s and Secretary of Defense’s lawful authority in district court in the meantime.
Previously, the Obama administration had set a July 1, 2017 deadline for allowing trans recruits to enlist. But last June, Defense Secretary James Mattis postponed that date to Jan. 1, 2018.
Then, in a series of tweets last July, Trump announced that transgender individuals would not be allowed to “serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.”
That announcement, which was not based on any type of studies or rational decision–making, was made official in an August presidential memorandum that stated:
In my judgment, the previous Administration failed to identify a sufficient basis to conclude that terminating the Departments’ longstanding policy and practice would not hinder military effectiveness and lethality, disrupt unit cohesion, or tax military resources, and there remain meaningful concerns that further study is needed to ensure that continued implementation of last year’s policy change would not have those negative effects.
Trump’s memorandum contradicted a 2016 RAND Corporation study that found that allowing transgender troops to serve poses no “significant effect” on readiness to serve or unit cohesion.
Four court challenges were initiated against Trump’s ban, and all of them have been successful to date. In late November, a federal judge in Maryland declared that the ban “cannot possibly constitute a legitimate governmental interest.” He ordered a preliminary injunction to stop it.
Less than a week later, another federal judge clarified an earlier ruling that prevented the military from implementing Trump’s ban on transgender people already serving in the military. Those troops had been permitted to serve openly since June 2016. The clarification stated that the Defense Department must allow trans recruits to enlist by Jan. 1, 2018 as planned.
On Dec. 21, a federal appeals court denied a Justice Department request to delay the deadline again, a ruling that was backed up by yet another federal appeals court in a separate decision, BuzzFeed reported.
The last legal recourse for the Justice Department at this point would have been to turn to the Supreme Court for a ruling on all of those other injunctions. The Justice Department’s announcement on Friday has put an end to that legal strategy, at least for now.
Speaking with Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern, Shannon Minter, legal director of National Center for Lesbian Rights, called the latest announcement “a major victory” and “great news for transgender troops, transgender military academy and ROTC students, and transgender people who have been waiting to enlist.”