( Seattle, WA, March 27, 2018 ) — Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN today argued before a federal district court that the Trump Administration's plan to ban transgender people from serving openly in the U.S. Armed Services is so clearly unconstitutional that it should be permanently blocked. It was the first such argument among the four lawsuits challenging the ban and came just five days after the White House released its so-called 'plan' for implementing the discriminatory and harmful ban.
"The continued uncertainty regarding the status of the tweeted ban, coupled with Friday's late night release of an insulting and almost incomprehensible implementation plan, is not just harming currently serving transgender troops and transgender people wishing to enlist, but is damaging military readiness and troop morale," Lambda Legal Senior Attorney Natalie Nardecchia said. "Six courts at multiple levels have swatted down this ill-conceived and discriminatory ban, and the so-called implementation 'plan' changed nothing: it's time to kick it to the curb for good."
Today's argument before the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington follows four U.S. district court rulings and two federal appellate court rulings that granted and preserved preliminary injunctions against enforcement of the ban. Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN, joined by the State of Washington, are the first to argue that the military ban developed in response to President Trump's July 26, 2017 tweets should be banned permanently.
"The president's tweets utterly devastated me. I felt as if the floor had fallen away beneath my feet," said Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN plaintiff Conner Callahan, a 29-year-old public safety officer at a North Carolina College who wants to enlist. "I know about sacrifice: I've sacrificed a lot to live as my authentic self and I am willing to sacrifice even more for my country. But because of this ruling, I've been forced to consider a future where I am unable to serve in the military. We need a definitive ruling from the court to allow me to pursue the career I am fully fit and qualified to pursue."
Today's arguments were the latest stage in the lawsuit, brought by Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN and joined by the state of Washington, challenging the ban. In December, the federal district court issued an injunction barring the ban from being enforced during the litigation and requiring the military to honor the existing policy, under which transgender service members were allowed to serve openly, and transgender Americans seeking to join the military had a path forward for doing so. Because of the injunction, transgender people were able to enlist starting January 1.
At issue in court today was Lambda Legal's and OutServe-SLDN's motion for summary judgment, asking the court to make a final ruling in the case and make the preliminary injunction permanent.
"Late Friday night, the Trump Administration doubled down on its discriminatory and harmful effort to bar well-qualified individuals from serving their country," said OutServe-SLDN Legal Director Peter Perkowski. "It fooled no one. Anything the Pentagon is using to justify this harmful ban is just transparent window dressing created for the express purpose of acceding to the president's ill-informed demands from last summer that transgender people not be allowed to serve in any capacity. The 'plan" is a sham: the harm, to transgender people and to the military, is real."
"The federal government has not given any legal justification for keeping able-bodied transgender individuals from serving in the military, for one simple reason: there isn't one," said Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson. "Barring transgender individuals from serving based on anything other than their ability and conduct is wrong."
In the lawsuit, Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN represent nine individual plaintiffs and three organizational plaintiffs — the Human Rights Campaign ( HRC ), Seattle-based Gender Justice League, and the American Military Partner Association ( AMPA ) — who joined the lawsuit on behalf of their transgender members harmed by the ban.
In October, a U.S. District Court judge in Washington, D.C., granted a preliminary injunction in a similar lawsuit challenging the transgender military service ban filed by the National Center for Lesbian Rights ( NCLR ) and GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders ( GLAD ). In November, a U.S. District Court judge in Maryland granted a preliminary injunction in a case filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. And, in December, in addition to the ruling out of Seattle, a U.S. District Court judge in California granted a preliminary injunction in a case filed by Equality California, also joined by NCLR and GLAD. The D.C. and Fourth Circuit Courts of Appeals denied the Trump Administration's efforts to secure stays on open enlistment in the two earlier cases.
The lawsuit is Karnoski v. Trump. Read more about the case here: https://www.lambdalegal.org/in-court/cases/karnoski-v-trump
The Lambda Legal attorneys working on the case are: Peter Renn, Camilla B. Taylor, Tara Borelli, Natalie Nardecchia, Sasha Buchert, Kara Ingelhart, and Carl Charles. They are joined by co-counsel Peter Perkowski of OutServe-SLDN. Also on the legal team are pro-bono co-counsel at Kirkland & Ellis LLP and Newman Du Wors LLP.
Quotes from Organizational Plaintiffs
"Last week, under the cover of darkness and in an act of cowardice, Donald Trump and Mike Pence doubled down on their dangerous and discriminatory ban on transgender troops with an implementation plan written by anti-trans zealots," said HRC Communications Director Chris Sgro. "As today's hearing demonstrated, this ban is rooted in nothing more than the petty prejudice of this president, vice president and the anti-LGBTQ extremists propping up their administration. Our country and constitution are stronger than these hateful politicians — and we thank Lambda Legal and Outserve-SLDN for representing us in this vitally important case."
"The Trump-Pence administration's continued insistence on targeting our military families for discrimination is appalling, reckless, and unpatriotic," said Ashley Broadway-Mack, President of the American Military Partner Association and spouse of an active duty U.S. Army officer. "Donald Trump and Mike Pence are literally wreaking havoc on the lives of our military families. Military experts already thoroughly studied this issue and found transgender service members should be able to serve openly with dignity and honor as they proudly do now with the full support they need and deserve. This unconscionable attack on our military families cannot stand we refuse to allow it."
"Today we had our day in court and we believe when the final verdict is handed down justice will be served and this unconstitutional policy will be overturned," said Danni Askini Executive Director of Gender Justice League, a transgender civil rights organization.