Trumps Battle Against Transgenders in Military Service

Trump's anti-trans rhetoric will leave his office and head to the Supreme Court.

The Trump White House is unprecedented in how it telegraphs the President's intentions across social media. But the volume of these tweets means it can be vulnerable to a single point of failure. These tweets also make it increasingly hard to separate the signal from the sound. Strong proclamations are sometimes forgotten within a week, so the best way to gauge the President's intentions are in the volume of his messaging. And recent tweets from the White House suggest that he may be seriously revisiting the issue of a transgender military ban.

A Tweet That Launched a Judicial Firestorm

Trump's push towards banning transgender enrollment in military services dates back to June 2017, when a Presidential tweet announced Trump's intention to ban transgender individuals from serving in the military in "any capacity". For many, it seemed an attempt to reverse the legacy of President Obama. While Obama had decided to allow transgender service members, the decision was still under final review when Trump took office. Since then, Trump's decision has been mired in the courts. Despite claiming that his policy was implemented to “prevent irreparable harm to military interests," multiple lawsuits were filed against him. Judge Marsha Pechman, who had first rejected the ban in December of 2017, doubled down on her decision in June.

Gridlock in the Circuit Courts

Following the initial injunction, the case has been redirected to a federal appeals court in Portland. In early October, they began hearing arguments from LGBTQ advocacy groups and the Department of Justice. The latter justified the ban under the pretext that transgender inclusion could constitute a threat to military readiness. More specifically, they argued that the substantial medical treatment that transgender individuals may require placed an unreasonable burden on the armed forces.

A Test For the Supreme Court

Despite stiff and repeated rebukes from the lower courts, the transgender military issue appears to be something the White House and Justice Department intend to continue pursuing. President Trump has gone directly to the Supreme Court in the hopes of an ultimate resolution. They argue that the lower courts have no right to make decisions with such broad national implications. What follows could be a test of what the Supreme Court represents. Trump has appointed two judges to the Supreme Court, and the recent appointment of Brett Kavanaugh raised concerns about the politicization of the highest court in the country. It's a schism that Trump has not been afraid to address directly. A recent tweet from Trump referred negatively to the judge who is currently evaluating his ban as an "Obama judge". It led to a minor dispute between Trump and Chief Justice John Roberts. How the Supreme Court decides to approach Trump's suggestion could define the Supreme Court's reputation for years to come and serve as a barometer for how much the President can expect them to forward his own executive agenda.

Plenty of eyes will be on the Supreme Court in the weeks to come. Trump's battle against transgender service members has come to represent a clear ideological divide between Republicans and Democrats. Minority leader Nancy Pelosi has come out against Trump's proclamation in no uncertain terms, stating that "The President's ban is a cruel and arbitrary decision designed to humiliate transgender Americans who have stepped forward to serve our country." If the Supreme Court were to take up the case, it would be a highly unusual circumstance. They are generally loathed to pursue cases that have not been reviewed by an appeals court an will only do so when the circumstances are especially urgent matters of public importance. While the Ninth Circuit Court in San Francisco has heard arguments in the case, they have yet to make a ruling. A separate appeal is scheduled to be heard by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in December.