A federal judge in Maryland cleared the way Thursday for the Trump administration to implement broad restrictions on transgender people serving in the military.
U.S. District Judge George L. Russell III rescinded an earlier order that he had issued to bar the administration from putting its policy in place.
The Supreme Court in January lifted similar injunctions in cases filed in California and Washington state, but the order issued in Maryland remained until Thursday.
In a six-page ruling, Russell said he had to follow the Supreme Court’s lead and could not make exceptions for transgender individuals in the Maryland case seeking to enlist or become military officers.
“The court is bound by the Supreme Court’s decision to stay the preliminary injunctions in their entirety,” Russell wrote.
The Defense Department said in a statement after the ruling that current policy allowing transgender troops to serve “will remain in effect until the Department issues further guidance, which will be forthcoming in the near future.”
American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Joshua Block, the lead attorney for the transgender service members in Maryland, said the ruling Thursday does “concrete, severe harm.” Block called it “particularly outrageous and irrational” that the government would not accommodate five of his clients who were on the cusp of enlisting or being commissioned as officers.
“It’s petty, and it is disappointing when you drill down to the level of real people who are making career plans,” he said.
The case in Maryland was filed days after Trump formally ordered the Pentagon to ban the recruitment of openly transgender people. The president surprised military leaders and members of Congress by abruptly announcing the proposed ban in tweets in July 2017. In announcing the change, Trump said he was “doing the military a great favor” by “coming out and just saying it.”
The Trump policy reverses an Obama-era rule allowing transgender men and women to enlist and instead bars entry to those who identify with a gender different from the one assigned at birth and are seeking to transition physically. The Trump administration’s policy also makes exceptions for about 900 transgender individuals who already are serving openly and for others who say they will serve in accordance with their birth gender.
Russell’s order lifts the preliminary injunction he issued in November 2017. Three other courts — in California, Washington state and the District of Columbia — also had issued injunctions.
In addition to the Supreme Court’s ruling in January, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit sided with the Trump administration, saying its restrictions on transgender troops and recruitment could stand. The appeals court said the policy is not a “blanket ban.”
Lawyers challenging the proposed policy in the D.C. case said Thursday that the injunction in their lawsuit remains for at least 21 days after the court issues its final signed ruling, which it has yet to do.
“The Trump administration keeps pushing to enforce a senseless and harmful ban,” said Jennifer Levi, GLAD’s Transgender Rights Project director. “There is no question this ban weakens our military by excluding from service transgender people who meet all of the military’s rigorous readiness and medical standards. With [the injunction] still in place, we will continue fighting this discriminatory ban.”
Paul Sonne contributed to this report.