WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed the Trump administration to go ahead with its plan to restrict military service by transgender people while court challenges continue.
The high court split 5-4 in allowing the plan to take effect, with the court’s five conservatives — including the newest one, Brett Kavanaugh — greenlighting it and its four liberal members saying they would not have.
The Trump administration had urged the justices to take up cases about the plan directly, but the court declined for now. Those cases will continue to move through lower courts.
Maine’s congressional delegation has opposed the ban, including U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican who submitted a 2017 amendment aimed at stymieing it. Collins voted for Kavanaugh in an October move followed by a 46-percentage point increase in approval among Republicans and a similar drop among liberal voters in quarterly polling from Morning Consult.
“If individuals are willing to put on the uniform of our country, be deployed in war zones, and risk their lives for our freedoms, then we should be expressing our gratitude to them, not trying to kick them out of the military,” Collins said in a statement.
On Tuesday, Maine’s two Democratic U.S. representatives criticized the decision on Twitter. Marine veteran Jared Golden of the 2nd District said “anyone who loves America and has the courage to serve should be given that opportunity” and Chellie Pingree of the 1st District said the ban is rooted in “ignorance” and “bigotry.” A spokesman for U.S. Sen. Angus King, an independent, said brave, qualified Americans should be able to serve.
Gia Drew, program director for EqualityMaine, called the decision “infuriating” and a “slap in the face of trans people who are more than capable of serving our country with dignity and respect.”
Quinn Gormley, executive director of the Maine Transgender Network, said Collins’ votes of support for Kavanaugh and conservative Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch “obviously made this ruling possible.”
Collins backed two other conservative justices, Chief Justice John Roberts and Samuel Alito, and two liberal justices, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, and helped lead the 2011 repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that banned openly gay men and women from military service.
“We really want to be clear with her: We had previously counted on her support from our community, but we can no longer call her an ally,” Gormley said. “When it comes down to it, she’s not there for us.”
Until a few years ago service members could be discharged from the military for being transgender. That changed under President Barack Obama. The military announced in 2016 that transgender individuals already serving in the military would be allowed to serve openly. And the military set July 1, 2017, as the date when transgender individuals would be allowed to enlist.
But after President Donald Trump took office, the administration delayed the enlistment date, saying the issue needed further study. While that study was ongoing, the president tweeted in late July 2017 that the government would not allow “Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.” He later directed the military to return to its policy before the Obama administration changes.
Groups representing transgender individuals sued, and the Trump administration lost early rounds in those cases, with courts issuing nationwide injunctions barring the administration from altering course. The Supreme Court on Tuesday lifted those preliminary injunctions.
In March 2018, the Trump administration announced that after studying the issue it was revising its policy. The new policy generally bars transgender individuals from serving unless they serve “in their biological sex” and do not seek to undergo a gender transition.
The policy has an exception for transgender troops who relied on the Obama-era rules to begin the process of changing their gender, allowing them to continue to serve. The military said last year that more than 900 men and women have done so.
BDN writers Michael Shepherd and Alex Acquisto contributed to this report.