December 11, 2017 at 7:58 pm EST | by Chris Johnson
Third court rules against Trump’s transgender military ban
Bilal Ahmed

A federal judge in Washington State has become the third to rule against Trump’s transgender military ban.

A federal judge in Washington State has become the latest to determine President Trump’s ban on transgender people in the armed forces is unconstitutional.

In a 23-page decision, U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman determined Monday in the case of Karnoski v. Trump the policy likely violates rights to equal protection and substantive due process as well as rights under the First Amendment.

“The court finds that plaintiffs are entitled to a preliminary injunction to preserve the status quo that existed prior to the change in policy announced by President Trump on Twitter and in his presidential memorandum,” Pechman writes.

Although Pechman determines the Obama-era policy change allowing transgender military service was methodical, that wasn’t the case for Trump because he announced it on Twitter “abruptly and without any evidence of considered reason or deliberation.”

As a result of her preliminary injunction, Pechman enjoins the Trump administration “from taking any action relative to transgender individuals that is inconsistent with the status quo that existed prior to President Trump’s July 26, 2017 announcement.”

Pechman, a Clinton appointee, concludes transgender status is a quasi-suspect classification on the basis that gender is a quasi-suspect classification, and therefore the transgender military ban should be subject to heightened scrutiny.

“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,” Pechman writes.

The lawsuit was filed by Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN on behalf of the nine transgender people who either serve or wish to serve in the U.S. armed forces and three organization plaintiffs: Human Rights Campaign, the Seattle-based Gender Justice League and the American Military Partner Association. Washington State also joined as a plaintiff in the case.

Peter Renn, senior attorney for Lambda Legal, said in a statement the court ruling was a victory for transgender people in the military.

“There is no valid reason to deny transgender people the right to serve their country. The court heard that argument, and agreed,” Renn said. “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.”

Among the nine plaintiffs in the case is Staff Sergeant Cathrine Schmid, who said in a statement she’s “incredibly relieved to know that I can continue to do my job and serve our nation without the additional stress of worrying that I could be discharged as soon as next March.”

“Being transgender has no impact on my ability to perform my duties, and I’m grateful that I will be able to continue to serve the people of the United States as this case moves through the courts,” Schmid said.

Sarah McBride, national press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement the ruling is “a victory in the fight against Donald Trump and Mike Pence’s cruel and animus-fueled policy.”

“Allowing this discriminatory ban to take effect would cause serious harm to our national defense and to the thousands of transgender people serving and wishing to serve their country,” McBride said.

Although Pechman rules in favor of plaintiffs for most claims, she denies assertions Trump’s ban violates the right to procedural due process under the Fifth Amendment on the basis the lawsuit alleges neither a “protectible liberty or property interest” nor a “denial of adequate procedural protections.”

Federal judges in D.C. and Baltimore have already issued rulings against Trump’s transgender military ban. Pechman is the third judge to determine the policy is unconstitutional. A fourth lawsuit against the ban, filed by Equality California, is pending before federal court in California.

As a result of these rulings, transgender people already in the military can continue to serve without fear of discharge over their gender identity and the Pentagon must begin admitting qualified transgender enlistees beginning Jan. 1.

The Pechman order was handed down on the same day the federal judge refused to stay her order as it pertains to transgender enlistments and the Pentagon announced it would begin accepting qualified transgender recruits at the start of the new year.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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