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Karnoski v. Trump

Case Challenging Trump's Directive Banning Military Service for Transgender Americans

Key Date: June 14, 2019
Status: Awaiting Action from District Court
Legal Team: Lambda Legal
Type: Other LGBT Litigation

Case Overview:

In July 2017 President Donald Trump tweeted a proposal to prohibit transgender Americans from serving in the United States military “in any capacity.” The proposal undercuts an entire year where transgender Americans served openly in the military, following an in-depth study from the U.S. Department of Defense. Thousands of transgender people are currently serving in the U.S. military.

On August 28 Karnoski v. Trump was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington challenging Trump’s attempt to reinstate a ban on open service for transgender people. It is filed on behalf of two transgender people who wish to join the military, an active servicemember seeking appointment as an officer, the Human Rights Campaign (which represents LGBTQ Americans), and Gender Justice League, an organization committed to fighting for the human rights of LGBTQ people.

The case is being led by Lambda Legal in conjunction with OutServe-SLDN and the Human Rights Campagin.

Latest in the Case:

In January 2019 the Supreme Court denied a request by the Trump administration to hear arguments regarding the proposed ban on transgender service members in the military. In the same order, the justices granted the government’s motions to lift injunctions on the ban temporarily. The military ban took effect on April 12, 2019, even as litigation against it continues through court.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals released its ruling in the case on June 14, 2019, sending the case back down to the district court to (1) reconsider the merits of a preliminary injunction, if plaintiffs wish to pursue one, and (2) to more thoroughly “reconsider Plaintiffs’ discovery requests giving full consideration to” executive privilege. In the ruling, the 9th Circuit held that the ban on open service for transgender people must pass “heightened” judicial scrutiny, under which, the court explained, the government bears the burden of establishing that it reasonably determined that the ban “significantly furthers” important government interests, which the court explained, “is not a trivial burden.

Case History:

  • August 25, 2017: President Trump signs a directive banning transgender Americans from enlisting in the United States military and leaving thousands of currently serving transgender servicemembers in limbo.
  • August 28, 2017: Lambda Legal file the initial complaint in the case, challenging President Trump’s proposed ban on open service for transgender Americans.
  • November 21, 2017: U.S. District Court Judge Marsha J. Pechman heard oral argument on Lambda Legal’s Motion for Preliminary Injunction in Washington.
  • December 11, 2017: Judge Pechman grants Lambda Legal’s Motion for Preliminary Injunction, halting the implementation of the ban.
  • December 14, 2017: Defendants appeal Preliminary Injunction ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.
  • January 25, 2018: Plaintiffs file Motion for Summary Judgment seeking to permanently block the anti-transgender order.
  • March 27, 2018: Judge Pechman hears oral argument in the case.
  • April 13, 2018:  Judge Pechman issues an order denying Plaintiffs’ and State of Washington’s motions for summary judgment, sending the case to trial while the preliminary injunction remains in place. Equality Case Files writes, “Judge Pechman determined that the ban will have to survive “strict scrutiny,” meaning that before Defendants can implement the military ban, they must show that it was sincerely motivated by compelling interests, rather than by prejudice or stereotype, and that it is narrowly tailored to achieve those interests. This is the first time a federal court has held that transgender people are entitled to strict scrutiny.”
  • June 15, 2018Judge Pechman denies a motion from the Trump Administration to stay the preliminary injunction, writing, “The status quo shall remain ‘steady as she goes,’ and the preliminary injunction shall remain in full force and effect nationwide.”
  • July 18, 2018: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit denies another attempt by the Trump Administration to implement a ban on transgender people serving openly in the military.
  • October 10, 2018: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit holds oral argument in the case.
  • January 22, 2019: In Karnoski and one other case tackling the anti-transgender military ban, the Supreme Court denies a request by the Trump administration to hear arguments regarding the proposed ban on transgender service members in the military. In the same order, the justices grant the government’s motions to lift injunctions on the ban temporarily.
  • April 12, 2019: While litigation continues in court, the anti-transgender military policy takes effect.
  • June 14, 2019: The 9th Circuit releases its ruling, sending the case back down to the district court to (1) reconsider the merits of a preliminary injunction, if plaintiffs wish to pursue one, and (2) to more thoroughly “reconsider Plaintiffs’ discovery requests giving full consideration to” executive privilege. In the ruling, the 9th Circuit holds that the ban on open service for transgender people must pass “heightened” judicial scrutiny, under which, the court explains, the government bears the burden of establishing that it reasonably determined that the ban “significantly furthers” important government interests, which the court explains, “is not a trivial burden.

Last Updated August 28, 2019

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