Monday, October 30, 2017
In an Order and Opinion in Doe v. Trump, United States District Judge for the District of Columbia Colleen Kollar-Kotelly partially enjoined the president's actions to limits the service of transgender persons in the United States military. Judge Kollar-Kelly denied the motion for preliminary injunction regarding the Sex Reassignment Directive, but granted the motion for preliminary injunction regarding the Accession and Retention Directives.
Recall that this lawsuit, filed by lawyers for the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) is one of several complaints challenging the president's military action, and included claims for a violation of equal protection, due process, and a nonconstitutional argument of equitable estoppel.
Judge Kollar-Kotelly's 76 page opinion, which begins with a recitation of the President's "statement via Twitter" on July 26, 2017, announcing that “the United States Government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.” This was followed almost a month later by the President's Memorandum for the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of Homeland Security through the Office of the Press Secretary directing the halt of accession of transgender individuals into the military and the halt of all resources "to fund sex-reassignment surgical procedures for military personnel, except to the extent necessary to protect the health of an individual who has already begun a course of treatment to reassign his or her sex." The President's Twitter statement and the subsequent Presidential memorandum are the centerpiece of the Government's argument that the plaintiffs lack standing and that their claims are not ripe under Article III.
Judge Kollar-Kotelly wrote:
Defendants have moved to dismiss this case, principally on the basis that the Court lacks jurisdiction. Although highly technical, these jurisdictional arguments reduce to a few simple points: the Presidential Memorandum has not effected a definitive change in military policy; rather, that policy is still subject to review; until that review is complete, transgender service members are protected; and any prospective injuries are too speculative to require judicial intervention.
These arguments, while perhaps compelling in the abstract, wither away under scrutiny.
Judge Kollar-Kotelly's opinion then spends the majority of the opinion discussing the standing and ripeness issues. As to the Surgery challenge, the opinion concludes that "none of the Plaintiffs have demonstrated an injury in fact with respect to the Sex Reassignment Surgery Directive," because none of the "Plaintiffs have demonstrated that they are substantially likely to be impacted by the Sex Reassignment Surgery Directive" In fact, the plaintiffs' medical procedures would be performed. However, there was standing on the Accession and Retention Directives because although an Interim Guidance possibly protects some transgender service members and allows for waivers,
The President controls the United States military. The directives of the Presidential Memorandum, to the extent they are definitive, are the operative policy toward military service by transgender service members.
Moreover, "the injury in fact element of standing in an equal protection case is the denial of equal treatment resulting from the imposition of the barrier.”
Compared to the extensive analysis of the Article III issues, Judge Kollar-Ketelly's analysis of the equal protection claim based on the Fifth Amendment is much more succinct. The opinion first determines the level of scrutiny, deciding on intermediate scrutiny for two reasons.
First, "on the current record, transgender individuals—who are alone targeted for exclusion by the Accession and Retention Directives—appear to satisfy the criteria of at least a quasi-suspect classification," considering whether they have "experienced a ‘history of purposeful unequal treatment’ or been subjected to unique disabilities on the basis of stereotyped characteristics not truly indicative of their abilities," and whether they have been as a group “relegated to such a position of political powerlessness as to command extraordinary protection from the majoritarian political process," and whether the group “exhibit[s] obvious, immutable, or distinguishing characteristics that define them as a discrete group.” Judge Kollar-Ketelly found that transgendered people satisfied these criteria, noting that although there was no binding precedent on this issue, other courts had reached similar conclusions and citing Evancho v. Pine-Richland Sch. Dist.
Second, Judge Kollar-Ketelly was "also persuaded that the Accession and Retention Directives are a form of discrimination on the basis of gender, which is itself subject to intermediate scrutiny. It is well-established that gender-based discrimination includes discrimination based on non- conformity with gender stereotypes."
In the application of intermediate scrutiny, Judge Kollar-Ketelly recited the rule of United States v. Virginia (VMI) (1996), and held that the Accession and Retention Directives relied on overbroad stereotypes and were not substantially related to the Government's stated interests. The opinion then considered the question of deference in the military context:
Nonetheless, given the deference owed to military personnel decisions, the Court has not based its conclusion solely on the speculative and overbroad nature of the President’s reasons. A second point is also crucial. As far as the Court is aware at this preliminary stage, all of the reasons proffered by the President for excluding transgender individuals from the military in this case were not merely unsupported, but were actually contradicted by the studies, conclusions and judgment of the military itself. As described above, the effect of transgender individuals serving in the military had been studied by the military immediately prior to the issuance of the Presidential Memorandum. In connection with the working group chaired by the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, the RAND National Defense Research Institute conducted a study and issued a report largely debunking any potential concerns about unit cohesion, military readiness, deployability or health care costs related to transgender military service. The Department of Defense Working Group, made up of senior uniformed officers and senior civilian officers from each military department, unanimously concluded that there were no barriers that should prevent transgender individuals from serving in the military, rejecting the very concerns supposedly underlying the Accession and Retention Directives. In fact, the Working Group concluded that prohibiting transgender service members would undermine military effectiveness and readiness. Next, the Army, Air Force and Navy each concluded that transgender individuals should be allowed to serve. Finally, the Secretary of Defense concluded that the needs of the military were best served by allowing transgender individuals to openly serve. In short, the military concerns purportedly underlying the President’s decision had been studied and rejected by the military itself. This highly unusual situation is further evidence that the reasons offered for the Accession and Retention Directives were not substantially related to the military interests the Presidential Memorandum cited.
the President abruptly announced, via Twitter—without any of the formality or deliberative processes that generally accompany the development and announcement of major policy changes that will gravely affect the lives of many Americans—that all transgender individuals would be precluded from participating in the military in any capacity. These circumstances provide additional support for Plaintiffs’ claim that the decision to exclude transgender individuals was not driven by genuine concerns regarding military efficacy.
Finding a likelihood of success on the merits of the equal protection claim, the opinion quickly dispatched the other considerations used in evaluating the issuance of a preliminary injunction, finding them met.
Expect the government to appeal as well as opinions in the other pending cases.