A third federal court has ruled against the Trump administration’s attempt to ban transgender people from joining the military. It agreed with D.C. and Maryland courts in stating that policy should revert to the status quo prior to the ban, meaning trans people can begin enlisting openly with the start of the new year.
U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman, in Washington state, ruled on Monday, in Karnoski v. Trump, brought by Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN.
“Because defendants have failed to demonstrate that the policy prohibiting transgender individuals from serving openly is substantially related to important government interests, it does not survive intermediate scrutiny,” she wrote.
Pechman stated that the ban likely violates equal protection and due process rights, as well as First Amendment rights.
Pechman said that forcing trans members of the military to lie about their gender identity would hamper their speech. This is a new objection to the law from a judge, as is another of Pechman’s distinctions, ThinkProgress reports.
“The policy penalizes transgender service members — but not others — for disclosing their gender identity, and is therefore a content-based restriction,” she wrote.
The judge also said the ban harmed Washington state, making it more difficult to “recruit and retain service personnel for the Washington National Guard” while being forced to uphold a discriminatory policy.
“There is no valid reason to deny transgender people the right to serve their country. The court heard that argument, and agreed,” Peter Renn, senior attorney for Lambda Legal, said in a statement. “Before the president’s vicious attack on transgender Americans, transgender service members had been serving openly and proudly in every branch of the U.S. military. Today’s ruling allows them to continue to do the job of defending our country while the case continues.”
While this is good news for trans servicemembers, there is still a chance the ban will remain in place come Jan. 1, as the Trump administration continues appealing court rulings to hold up the process.
As Slate notes, there is also still plenty of time for a higher court, possibly even the Supreme Court, to intervene and prevent the enlistment beginning Jan. 1.
Even if the Pentagon does begin allowing trans servicemembers to enlist, the requirements are steep, including being stable on hormone replacement therapy medications for at least 18 months. This, plus the uncertain future, could also keep recruits away.