In three weeks, transgender individuals seeking to enlist in U.S. military forces may start joining up. The Pentagon made that announcement Monday within hours after a federal judge refused the Trump Administration’s request to put such enlistments on hold.
U.S. District Judge Kolleen Kollar-Kotelly, remarking that the Pentagon has had nearly a year and a half to prepare to open the ranks to transgender recruits, ruled that Justice Department lawyers had not proved that the military services were not prepared for the change. The Department had asked for a delay of the judge’s earlier order while the government challenges that in an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and also to give the Pentagon time to do more study on what its policy should be on transgender people in the services.
In October, Judge Kollar-Kotelly temporarily blocked the Administration from carrying out President Trump’s order to ban all transgender individuals already serving and to bar any new enlistments. The President had announced the ban in a Twitter post in July, and the Pentagon had taken steps to carry it out. That stopped with the judge’s preliminary ruling. The judge will move on toward a final ruling while the government’s appeal unfolds.
The ban was a direct switch from a policy announced by the Obama Administration, which would have protected transgender individuals already serving and would have allowed new transgender recruits as of last June 30. The judge did allow the Pentagon to postpone the enlistment opportunity until the opening of the New Year.
The Administration returned to Judge Kollar-Kotelly’s court, asking for a postponement and saying that it has much more to do to get ready to receive new recruits. That is the request the judge turned down on Monday. In discounting a top Pentagon official’s claim that it would not be ready by January 1, the judge said much planning had already been done and cited remarks by former Obama Administration officials that no further delay was needed to prepare.
In blocking both the ban on serving individuals as well as the ban on new recruits, the judge had said that the Pentagon had offered no facts to back up its claim that having transgender people in the ranks would interfere with military missions.
Among other arguments the Administration had made for a delay of the January 1 date to open enlistments was that, within the next few weeks, it would be adopting a new policy on the issue. But the judge said that, if that new policy were an attempt to reinstate a ban, that – like the Trump-ordered ban last summer – would likely be ruled to be unconstitutional.
In a news release Monday afternopn announcing that the military would allow such enlistments beginning at the start of January, the Pentagon noted that there will be some restrictions on potential recruits who may not have adapted fully to gender transition medical treatment or drugs. The judge had acknowledged that those restrictions would be enforced.
The announcement said that enlistments would be allowed while the Administration’s appeal goes forward in the Circuit Court. The Administration would have the option of asking the Circuit Court for a postponement, but the fact that the Pentagon had gone ahead to start complying may have signaled that there would not be such an attempt. Technically, that would be up to the Justice Department to decide.