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Federal judge orders military to start admitting transgender service members by Jan. 1

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)President Trump greets members of the U.S. military at Yokota Air Base.

A federal judge has ruled that the U.S. military must start admitting transgender service members beginning on Jan. 1, 2018, in compliance with a memorandum issued by former President Barack Obama last year.

In a clarification issued on Monday, Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly stated that her injunction means that the military must continue to follow the policies established by Obama's "June 30, 2016 Directive-type Memorandum," which held that transgender individuals can enlist beginning on Jan. 1.

"Any action by any of the Defendants that changes this status quo is preliminarily enjoined," the judge wrote.

Kollar-Kotelly further noted that Defense Secretary James Mattis does not have the authority to delay the start of recruitment of transgender service members.

"This is an important clarification because it means the military can't do an end run around the judge's decision," said Jennifer Levi, of the GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), said about Kollar-Kotelly's order.

GLAD and The National Center for Lesbian Rights sued the government in August on behalf of five longtime transgender service members after President Donald Trump issued an executive order asking the military to stop enlisting transgender individuals and not use funds to pay for gender transition-related surgery. The complainants argued that the ban was unconstitutional and denied them equal rights and due process.

The judge had previously issued a lengthy memo in which she said that the plaintiffs are likely to succeed in their case.

"The court finds that a number of factors—including the sheer breadth of the exclusion ordered by the directives, the unusual circumstances surrounding the President's announcement of them, the fact that the reasons given for them do not appear to be supported by any facts, and the recent rejection of those reasons by the military itself — strongly suggest that Plaintiffs' Fifth Amendment claim is meritorious," she wrote in October, as reported by The Hill.

Trump's memo had given Mattis six months to assess the role of transgender troops who are currently serving in the U.S. military.

Last month, Trump's attempt to ban transgender military service members suffered another setback after another federal judge in Baltimore ruled that such a ban lacks justification and "cannot possibly constitute a legitimate governmental interest."

U.S. District Judge Marvin Garbis contended that Trump's order is not backed by genuine concerns for military efficacy.

At that time, Justice Department spokeswoman Lauren Ehrsam asserted that Garbis' injunction was "premature" because the Pentagon was still "actively reviewing" transgender service requirements. She also argued that none of the plaintiffs have demonstrated that they will be affected by current policies on military service.

Trump's order was supposed to take full effect in March 2018, and an appeal could still overturn the latest decision.

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