Photographer: Luke Sharrett

U.S. Walks Back Trump Tweets in Hearing Over Military Trans Ban

  • Hearing in Baltimore was first over policy unveiled in July
  • ACLU says soldiers are already being harmed and stigmatized

A federal judge challenged the government’s claim that President Donald Trump’s promised ban on transgender soldiers was still up in the air and that lawsuits challenging the policy are premature.

"Your characterization of this as some kind of study is inaccurate," U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis said Thursday at a hearing in Baltimore. "President Trump wanted an implementation plan."

Justice Department lawyers repeatedly told Garbis that the military is still reviewing the matter and no decision had been made during the first hearing over Trump’s plan to bar transgender Americans from the armed forces.

"What the president did was say there are meaningful concerns that need to be studied," Brett Shumate, a Justice Department attorney, said at the hearing. "The president has not made a decision."

The case is one of four lawsuits seeking to overturn the ban, which is set to take effect in March. A nationwide injunction against the ban was issued by a federal court in Washington, which ruled the proposal is a form is discrimination based on gender and is already causing harm to personnel.

Policy Tweet

Citing threats to troop readiness and morale, as well as costs associated with medical services, Trump said in a series of tweets in July that he would reverse former President Barack Obama’s policy allowing transgender soldiers to serve. 

“After consultation with my generals and military experts, please be advised that the U.S. government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military," the president said.

Garbis ended the hearing without ruling on the government’s request to toss the case out, or on the American Civil Liberties Union’s bid for another national injunction against the ban. The judge said that even though the ban hadn’t taken effect, transgender troops were being stigmatized, and he pushed back on the government’s claim that the issue is merely being studied.

The ACLU, which represents the plaintiffs in the Baltimore case, said the government’s characterization of the situation was misleading at best, and that soldiers are already being harmed.

"All of the government’s arguments have been about shielding the president’s changes from judicial review or denying that he did what he did," said ACLU attorney Josh Block. "Taking the president at his word -- both in tweets and memorandums -- is not speculation."

The ACLU said the government’s tactic in court was to confuse the issue and walk back Trump’s tweets to make it appear that no one was being harmed and therefore undermine the plaintiff’s ability to sue.

"All sorts of folks are just in a constant state of being put off balance and being told that what’s happening isn’t really happening," Block said in a phone call after the hearing. "It’s a pattern of gaslighting people -- that appears to be the legal strategy that the DOJ is relying on to defend what the president is doing."

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