McCain, Smith Blast Trump on Transgender Move, Court Challenges Filed

President Donald Trump issued a new policy on Aug. 25, 2017, that bans transgender people from joining the US military. The policy also prohibits the Defense Department from paying for gender-transition medical care for troops who are currently serving. Here, Trump speaks at Fort Myer, Va., Aug. 21, 2017. DOD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith.

Two lawmakers who hold senior appointments on defense committees criticized President Donald Trump’s directives limiting transgender individuals from serving in the US military over the weekend, and advocacy groups filed two separate federal lawsuits Monday challenging the constitutionality of the President’s new policy.

On Friday, Trump released a memorandum directing the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security to ban new transgender accessions from joining the military and to stop paying for service member’s gender transition-related medical care. Trump left the status of currently serving transgender members up to department leadership.

These moves by the President are “a step in the wrong direction,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in a statement issued Saturday. The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee also said Trump’s directives could force “currently serving transgender individuals to leave the military solely on the basis of their gender identity rather than medical and readiness standards.” He called for the completion of an ongoing Pentagon study of transgender service in the US military before any new policy is enacted.

In his own statement released Saturday, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, called Trump’s memo “a cravenly opportunistic act of discrimination against men and women who volunteer to defend the United States.” Smith said there is “no credible information suggesting that transgender service undermines military readiness,” and that the new directives would “ruin lives and deface our government’s commitment to equality.”

On Monday, advocacy groups filed two federal lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the memo and seeking to halt the President’s directives.

Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN filed one lawsuit with the Western District of Washington, in Seattle, on behalf of three transgender individuals and two other organizations. One of the individuals is a high school student from Corpus Christi, Texas, who wants to join the Air Force, according to an OutServe-SLDN press release.

The lawsuit challenges Trump’s stated reasons for initiating a transgender ban, saying the cost of gender transition-related medical care would be “an exceedingly small portion” of the overall cost of DOD medical care and arguing there is no data to support the assertion that transgender service will negatively affect readiness or unit cohesion. It asks the court for an injunction against Trump’s directives.

The suit’s three-part legal complaint is based on an equal protection claim that the new policy “intentionally discriminates against transgender individuals based on sex-related considerations,” a due process claim that the directives “diminish the personhood, dignity, and autonomy” of transgender persons, and a first amendment claim that Trump’s ban would “chill the exercise of … constitutionally protected speech” of transgender military members.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a separate lawsuit Monday on behalf of six transgender US military members, including one Active Duty airman and two Air National Guard members. That suit was filed with the US District Court for Maryland and charges that “the Trump administration has provided no evidence that this pronouncement was based on any analysis of the actual cost and disruption allegedly caused by allowing men and women who are transgender to serve openly.”

The ACLU legal complaint is based on fifth amendment claims that Trump’s transgender directives violate the equal protection and due process rights of the service members. The suit asks the court to declare the directives unconstitutional and to order the administration not to enforce the new policy.