The Supreme Court voted on Tuesday to allow the Trump administration’s transgender military ban to go into effect, even as lower courts continue to debate the issue. The court’s four liberal justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan objected to allowing the ban to move forward, but were outvoted by the conservative majority, John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and the newly confirmed Brett Kavanaugh.
The policy, which was proposed by President Trump in a series of tweets in July 2017, and later refined by former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, was blocked from going into effect by a series of injunctions from lower courts, and openly trans service members were allowed to join the military on January 1, 2018. Following Tuesday’s decision, their fates, along with the fates of the thousands of trans troops estimated to be serving in the military before 2018, are now uncertain.
In response to the Supreme Court’s decision, the Human Rights Campaign tweeted, “Today’s decision thrusts this administration’s discriminatory agenda onto a military that clearly doesn’t want it, and does so at the expense of transgender people’s careers and service.”
Trump’s announcement of his proposed ban in July 2017 reportedly took his military chiefs by surprise. The president initially pushed to bar transgender individuals from serving in the military “in any capacity,” citing what he viewed as “tremendous medical costs and disruption.” (A 2016 study by the RAND Corporation found the cost of transgender medical care in the military to be negligible, and the Washington Post noted that the military spends five times as much on Viagra as it does transition-related medical care.) General Mattis then revised the policy to bar individuals with a history of gender dysphoria.
The military ban has not been the administration’s only attempt to rip civil rights away from trans individuals. An October 2018 memo from the Department of Health and Human Services effectively attempted to erase the federal recognition of trans and non-binary identities by only recognizing male and female sex, and defining gender as “unchangeable.”