A federal judge issued a ruling late Monday afternoon ordering the military to begin accepting transgender recruits as of Jan. 1.
The judge, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, had previously granted the plaintiffs an injunction preventing an August order from President Donald Trump from going into effect.
The Trump administration then filed a motion seeking clarification as to whether the judge’s order meant that Secretary of Defense James Mattis did not have the independent discretion to delay the implementation of former President Barack Obama’s June 2016 memorandum order in order to study its potential effect on “military readiness and lethality.” That memorandum, among other things, stated that the military would begin to allow openly transgender recruits as of Jan. 1, 2018.
In her ruling on Monday, the judge explicitly stated that the military was required to allow transgender recruits as of Jan. 1, as stated in former President Obama’s memorandum order.
Judge Kollar-Kotelly was appointed to the bench in 1997 by former President Bill Clinton.
On June 30, 2016, former Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced a new policy that would allow openly transgender troops to serve in the military. The announcement was accompanied by a memorandum that stated that military recruiters must begin accepting openly transgender recruits as of Jan. 1, 2018.
On Aug. 25, President Trump issued a memorandum reversing significant portions of Obama’s order. The memorandum declared that the military would not accept openly transgender recruits as of Jan. 1, 2018.
Additionally, it forbade the military from paying for gender re-assignment surgery for enlisted troops and directed Mattis to research what should be done about openly transgender individuals who were currently serving in the military.
A group of “Jane Doe” plaintiffs — unnamed transgender individuals who purportedly either wish to enlist in the military or are currently in the military and wish to keep serving — filed a lawsuit to enjoin the enforcement of Trump’s Aug. 25 order.
On Oct. 30, Kollar-Kotelly issued an order ruling largely in favor of the plaintiffs and partially blocking the enforcement of Trump’s order.
In response, the Trump administration asserted that, regardless of Trump’s order, Mattis possessed the legal authority to exercise his own discretion to delay the Jan. 1 deadline in order to study whether the impact of Obama’s order would “impact military readiness and lethality.”
The administration filed a motion seeking clarification on this point. The plaintiffs opposed the motion.
What did the ruling say?
The ruling clarified that the judge’s intent was to prevent the enforcement of any portion of Trump’s order that changed the status quo that was established by Obama’s 2016 order.
Without addressing specifically whether Mattis had the legal authority to exercise his own discretion to delay the implementation of the policy, the judge bluntly ordered the government to not take any action that would prevent Obama’s order from taking effect, stating, “Any action by any of the Defendants that changes this status quo is preliminarily enjoined.”
The Trump administration has not yet announced whether it plans to appeal this ruling.