Friday, a federal court in Seattle rejected the Trump Administration’s claim that its “new” discriminatory plan to ban transgender people from serving openly in the U.S. Armed Services passes muster. Instead, the court found that the implementation plan the Administration issued in late March was not a new policy but rather threatens the very same constitutional violations and that the lawsuit brought by Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN can proceed to trial. Furthermore, the court also found that the effort to ban transgender people from military service must meet the most demanding level of scrutiny because it so clearly targets transgender people. Meanwhile, the preliminary injunction the court previously granted remains in place, preventing the implementation of the ban pending trial.
“The court wants to expose this bigoted ban for all of its ugliness at trial, and we are happy to oblige. If it’s a full record the judge wants, then it’s a full record we will give her,” Lambda Legal Senior Attorney Natalie Nardecchia said. “We look forward to putting the capriciousness and cruelty of this discriminatory ban against transgender people on trial, where it can be relegated for good to the trash heap of history, alongside other vile military policies that discriminated based on race, sex, and sexual orientation.”
“Until the ban is put on trial, transgender people serving or wishing to serve in the military are protected by four separate court injunctions barring its implementation,” Lambda Legal Senior Attorney Peter Renn added. “If history is any prediction of the future, the ban is still doomed at its next reckoning.”
Friday’s ruling came in response to several motions argued late last month before the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. While the judge did not grant the Motion for Summary Judgment requested by Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN, the court also rejected the Trump Administration’s Motion to Dismiss President Trump from the lawsuit.
“I remain resolute,” Staff Sergeant Cathrine (“Katie”) Schmid said. “I will continue to perform my duties as I always have. Being transgender has no impact on my ability to perform those duties, and I look forward to demonstrating that, both in court and at my unit every day.”
”While it does not grant the ultimate relief – a judgment without trial – the court’s decision gets us well on the way to defeating this ban,” OutServe-SLDN Legal Director Peter Perkowski said. “Significantly, the court rejected the government’s position that last month’s announcement was a ‘new policy,’ it kept the preliminary injunction in place, and set a high bar for the government to prevail. We remain confident that the facts presented at trial will prove determinative and we can finally put this discriminatory and harmful ban out of our misery.”
“The upcoming trial will only serve to further demonstrate that this impulsively tweeted ban is fueled by nothing more than the president’s personal prejudices,” said HRC National Press Secretary Sarah McBride. “Transgender people are serving with distinction and enlisting with bravery this very moment and there continues to be no legitimate rationale to change that. We continue to stand with all transgender service members and enlistees in this fight — and we thank our attorneys at Lambda Legal and Outserve-SLDN for their tireless work.”
In the lawsuit, Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN represent nine individual plaintiffs and three organizational plaintiffs. The individual plaintiffs, all of whom are transgender, include:
- Staff Sergeant Cathrine (“Katie”) Schmid, a 33-year-old woman and 12-year member of the U.S. Army currently serving in Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington, who has applied to become an Army Warrant Officer;
- Petty Officer Terece Lewis, a 33-year-old woman and 14-year member of the U.S. Navy serving on the U.S.S. John C. Stennis out of Bremerton, Washington;
- Chief Warrant Officer Lindsey Muller, a 36-year-old woman and 17-year member of the U.S. Army serving at Camp Humphreys in South Korea;
- Petty Officer Second Class Phillip Stephens, a 30-year-old man and five-year member of the U.S. Navy serving at Eglin Air Force Base near Valparaiso, Florida;
- Petty Officer Second Class Megan Winters, a 29-year-old woman and five-year member of the U.S. Navy serving in the Office of Naval Intelligence in Washington, D.C.;
- Ryan Karnoski, a 23-year-old Seattle man who currently works as a social worker and wishes to become an officer doing social work for the military;
- Conner Callahan, a 29-year-old man who currently works in law enforcement in North Carolina;
- Drew Layne, a recent high-school graduate from Corpus Christi, Texas, who is 17 years old and, with parental support, wants to join the Air Force; and
- A ninth individual currently serving in the military who remains anonymous.
The organizational plaintiffs are 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. The case has also been joined by the State of Washington.
“We are confident that justice will prevail as the unconscionable Trump-Pence transgender military ban is weighed against the facts in court,” said American Military Partner Association President Ashley Broadway-Mack. “Our transgender service members are serving our nation with pride, and it’s time that Donald Trump and Mike Pence abandon their vicious assault and begin supporting them as the brave American heroes they are. No administration can claim to truly support our military while singling out some service members for blatant and unfounded discrimination just because of who they are.”
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 Friday’s ruling here: https://www.lambdalegal.org/in-court/legal-docs/karnoski_wa_20180413_opinion. 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.