A federal appeals court denied the Trump administration's request to halt a Jan. 1 start date for allowing transgender military recruits, a decision announced in a brief ruling on Thursday.
The order from the US Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit brings the question closer to the Supreme Court, where the Justice Department could now turn in a last-ditch effort to stop transgender people from being allowed to join the military if they meet certain conditions starting in the new year.
The case, Stone v. Trump, is one of several challenging President Trump's transgender military ban order, which itself came out of his July morning tweets announcing his position on the topic.
Asked for comment on the ruling and whether the Justice Department would ask the Supreme Court for a stay, Justice Department spokesperson Lauren Ehrsam wrote, "We disagree with the Court’s ruling and are currently evaluating the next steps."
On Friday, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit issued an order in a separate but similar case also denying the administration's request for a delay to the Jan. 1 start date.
"In the balancing of equities, it must be remembered that all Plaintiffs seek during this litigation is to serve their Nation with honor and dignity, volunteering to face extreme hardships, to endure lengthy deployments and separation from family and friends, and to willingly make the ultimate sacrifice of their lives if necessary to protect the Nation, the people of the United States, and the Constitution against all who would attack them," the DC Circuit panel wrote.
This issue making its way through the courts on a somewhat expedited basis currently is the specific question of transgender military recruits. The other parts of Trump's order — about retention and promotion of current service members who are transgender and about surgery coverage — also are enjoined currently, and that litigation will continue in the new year, but the accession question must be resolved because the start date for that, prior to Trump's ban, was to be Jan. 1.
The latest stage in this process began on Nov. 27, when US District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ruled that the Pentagon could not move the Jan. 1 deadline for allowing transgender recruits. On Dec. 11, the judge ruled against the Trump administration again — denying a request for a partial stay of her earlier order. The Trump administration appealed to the DC Circuit.
At the same time, two other similar cases led to similar injunctions against Trump's ban — one in Maryland and another in the state of Washington. In both cases, the Trump administration has asked the district court judge to clarify their ruling to allow the Pentagon to move the Jan. 1 date or to issue a partial stay of that part of the injunctions. They also appealed both cases, to the US Courts of Appeals for the 4th Circuit and 9th Circuit, respectively.
Although the one case was pending before the DC Circuit, it was the 4th Circuit that issued the first appellate ruling on the subject, stating, without more explanation, that "the court denies the motion for administrative stay and partial stay pending appeal" in Thursday's order.
The 4th Circuit panel hearing the request was made up of Judges Diana Motz, Albert Diaz, and Pamela Harris. Motz was nominated to the bench by President Clinton, and Diaz and Harris by President Obama. Their order came two days after challengers to the ban submitted in court a Dec. 8 Defense Department memorandum laying out the department's policies for allowing transgender recruits — and the conditions they must meet — starting on Jan. 1.
The DC Circuit panel hearing that request was made up of Judges Judith Rogers, David Tatel, and Patricia Millett.
Later still on Friday, a federal district court in California — hearing yet another challenge to the ban — issued a fourth injunction against the ban. Judge Jesus G. Bernal ruled that the "Plaintiffs have demonstrated their Equal Protection claim will likely succeed on the merits."
Updated with information about the DC Circuit order on Friday.
Updated with information about the California order on Friday.