Challenge to military transgender ban heard in Seattle court

SEATTLE — No decision was made in the legal challenge against President Trump's first military transgender ban heard Tuesday in federal court in Seattle.

KIRO 7 Reporter Rob Munoz will go in-depth on the legal fight that led to the challenge that played out in Seattle for KIRO 7 at Noon. Here’s what to know now.

Why does Trump want a ban?  

Trump sent a series of tweets in July how the military could not be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that “transgender in the military would entail.” It came as the military faced a deadline for updating its medical standards to accommodate transgender service members.

Related: Court partially blocks Trump’s directive to restrict transgender military members

He followed with an August memo directing the Pentagon to extend indefinitely a ban on transgender individuals joining the military, and gave Defense Secretary Jim Mattis six months to come up with a policy on "how to address" those who are currently serving.

What was the order issued last Friday?

The president released an order Friday night banning most transgender troops from serving in the military except under "limited circumstances," following up on his calls last year to ban transgender individuals from serving.

Related: Trump order would ban most transgender troops from serving

"This new policy will enable the military to apply well-established mental and physical health standards - including those regarding the use of medical drugs - equally to all individuals who want to join and fight for the best military force the world has ever seen," White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Friday.

Why is this case in a Seattle courtroom? 

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued and won an injunction in December, on the grounds the ban would irreparably harm transgender individuals.

The motion for summary judgment in the July case filed by the State Attorney General's Office along with human rights groups Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN, asked the court to make a final ruling in the case and make the preliminary injunction permanent.

Lambda and Outserve are defending a group of transgender Washington residents either currently serving in the military or wishing to join.

A summary judgment is decision made by a court based upon a motion by one party against another party without a trial.

Washington's case was the first time any court has heard arguments on the merits of a case against the transgender military ban.

What was the outcome of Tuesday's hearing?

The White House wanted to cancel the hearing, but the court refused. It claimed an order released last Friday banning most transgender troops from serving in the military was separate from the order the president announced on Twitter last July. That effort was denied and Tuesday’s hearing went forward.

The case was heard in front of federal judge Marsha Pechman, who delayed the motion for summary judgment she gets new briefings filed from both sides regarding constitutional issues.

The case addresses the first ban in which Joint Base Lewis-McChord Army Staff Sergeant Catherine Schmid testified.

Related: Seattle man plaintiff in lawsuit against Trump’s transgender military service ban

“When people say that transgender can’t serve, that are units are negatively influenced by our presence, or that my medical care makes me unable to do the most basic parts of my duties, what they’re really saying is that I’m not capable of performing the duties of the job for which I’ve been trained,” said Schmid.

What transgender do advocacy supporters say? 

Activist groups had worried the administration could enact such strict enlistment and health care restrictions that it would become all but impossible for transgender troops to join or continue serving.

Under guidelines presented in December, the Pentagon could disqualify potential recruits with gender dysphoria, those with a history of medical treatments associated with gender transition and those who underwent reconstruction. Such recruits could be allowed in if a medical provider certified they've been clinically stable in the preferred sex for 18 months and are free of significant distress or impairment in social, occupational or other important areas.

Transgender individuals receiving hormone therapy must be stable on their medication for 18 months.
The requirements make it challenging for a transgender recruit to pass. But they mirror conditions laid out by President Barack Obama's administration in 2016, when the Pentagon initially lifted its ban on transgender troops serving openly in the military.

The Pentagon has said it will abide by Obama-era policies, which welcome transgender troops, as the legal fight continues.

Washington state already a leader for transgender people in military 

In June, Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed an amicus brief, along with eight others states,in a lawsuit that wants to change a Department of Veteran Affairs rule that denies surgical services to transgender veterans.

The brief is part of a lawsuit brought by Marine Corps veteran Dee Fulcher and U.S. Army veteran Giuliano Silva.

Silva, 26, wrote in a blog post he was denied coverage for a doctor-recommended mastectomy for back pain, and it lead to early retirement from service.

“My doctor told me that I needed to have surgery because of my severe back pain, but simply because I am transgender, a procedure that is available to thousands of other veterans will not be covered by the VA for me,” Silva wrote. “I made a commitment to the Army and I kept it until I retired, but it is heartbreaking for me that this policy on transition-related surgery keeps the VA from upholding its duty to me.”

Fulcher and Silva's lawsuit is not directly involved in Trump’s ban. Medical standards for military branches are under of the Department of Defense, whereas Fulcher and Silva's case is against the VA.

But Ferguson's brief in the lawsuit does talk about the claim regarding unmanageable costs for transgender veterans’ health care.

Ferguson’s team argues that covering sex reassignment surgery will not significantly raise health care costs and premiums. And that the costs associated with negative health effects could burden the states, according to the legal team’s argument.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.