June 14, 2019 – Today, the Ninth Circuit issued its long-awaited decision in Karnoski v. Trump, one of the four legal challenges to the ban on military service by transgender people. The Ninth Circuit ruled that the district court applied the wrong legal standard when it denied the government’s request to lift the court’s order halting the ban after Secretary Mattis issued a new policy about how to implement the ban in March, 2018. However, the Ninth Circuit also ruled that the district court can now reconsider whether to issue a new order halting the ban after applying the correct legal standard.
The Ninth Circuit held that the Mattis policy singles out transgender people and must therefore be reviewed under heightened scrutiny—which means that the burden to justify the ban is on the government, and that the government must show that discriminating against transgender people is substantially related to “an exceedingly persuasive” governmental interest.
Today’s ruling also applies in Stockman v. Trump, a challenge brought by Equality California on behalf of its members and seven individual plaintiffs. GLAD and NCLR are counsel in Stockman, along with Latham and Watkins LLP.
Statement by Jennifer Levi, Director of Transgender Rights Project at GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders:
“This is a hugely positive development. The Ninth Circuit recognized that the Mattis plan clearly targets transgender people, and that the government faces an uphill battle in justifying it.”
Statement by Shannon Minter, Legal Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights:
“Today’s ruling provides a clear roadmap for striking down this discriminatory ban. Transgender service members already must meet the same standards applied to everyone else. The only effect of this policy is to exclude people who meet those strict standards and are fit to serve, simply because they are transgender. “
Statement by Rick Zbur, Executive Director of Equality California
“Equality California welcomes this opportunity to once again make the case for why this ban is harmful to transgender servicemembers, to their families and to our nation’s military. Excluding qualified, dedicated Americans who want nothing more than to serve our country is not only irrational, it is deeply contrary to the military’s own values of judging individuals based on merit, not on irrelevant characteristics that have nothing to do with their fitness to serve.”