Appeals court sides with Trump on transgender military ban

A federal appeals court on Friday overturned a lower court’s ruling blocking President TrumpDonald John TrumpButtigieg surges ahead of Iowa caucuses Biden leads among Latino Democrats in Texas, California Kavanaugh hailed by conservative gathering in first public speech since confirmation MORE’s ban on transgender people serving in the military from taking effect.

The ruling hands Trump a win in a case that has seen several courts block the policy. But the policy still cannot take effect because of those other injunctions, which applied nationwide.

“Although today’s decision is not a final determination on the merits, we must recognize that the Mattis Plan plausibly relies upon the ‘considered professional judgment’ of ‘appropriate military officials’ ... and appears to permit some transgender individuals to serve in the military consistent with established military mental health, physical health, and sex-based standards,” wrote a three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

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“In light of the substantial constitutional arguments and the apparent showing that the policy accommodates at least some of plaintiffs’ interests, we think that the public interest weighs in favor of dissolving the injunction.”

Trump announced over Twitter in July 2017 that he intended to ban all transgender people from serving in the military.

Four lawsuits were filed against the ban, and lower courts in all four cases had blocked the policy from taking effect as the suits work their way through the legal system.

In March, then-Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisOvernight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families Amazon to challenge Pentagon's 'war cloud' decision in federal court Former Mattis staffer: Trump 'shooting himself in the foot' on foreign policy MORE released an implementation plan for Trump’s policy that would allow transgender people to serve if they do so in their biological sex.

The Trump administration then asked courts to dissolve their injunctions, arguing the Mattis plan is not a blanket ban on transgender people.

On Friday, the appeals court panel ruled that District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly made a “clear error” in deciding that the injunction should stay in place because the Mattis plan was no different from Trump’s policy.

The appeals court said Mattis’s plan was not “foreordained” by Trump because it took into account a panel of military and medical experts, evidence from the implementation of the open service policy and “a reassessment of the priorities of the group that produced” the open service policy.

The appeals court also agreed with the administration that the Mattis plan is not a blanket ban.

“Although the Mattis Plan continues to bar many transgender persons from joining or serving in the military, the record indicates that the plan allows some transgender persons barred under the military’s standards prior to the [open service policy] to join and serve in the military,” the judges wrote.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, vowed to keep fighting the ban.

“Today’s ruling is a devastating slap in the face to transgender service members who have proved their fitness to serve and their dedication to this country,” NCLR legal director Shannon Minter said in a statement. “We will keep fighting this cruel and irrational policy, which serves no purpose other than to weaken the military and punish transgender service members for their patriotism and service.”

The Department of Justice also previously asked the Supreme Court to wade into the legal dispute before any appeals court had reviewed the issue. In leapfrogging regular judicial order, Solicitor General Noel Francisco asked the justices in November to hear its appeal of the district court rulings against the ban this term.

Three weeks later, Francisco then went back to the court seeking an emergency order that would allow the ban to take effect while the cases are being litigated.

Lydia Wheeler contributed