Second US judge halts Trump ban on transgender troops

Nov 21 (Reuters) - A second federal judge on Tuesday blocked President Donald Trump from banning transgender people from serving in the U.S. military, ruling that the prohibition likely amounted to unconstitutional discrimination.

U.S. District Judge Marvin Garbis in Baltimore ruled that the ban lacked justification and "cannot possibly constitute a legitimate governmental interest." His ruling followed a similar one by a federal judge in Washington on Oct. 30.

Garbis, appointed to the federal bench by former Republican president George Bush in 1989, went further than the Washington judge by also blocking the government's directive to stop funding sex-reassignment surgery while the case moves forward, as some of the plaintiffs would be impacted by the prohibition.

Trump announced in July he would ban transgender people from the military, citing concern over military focus and medical costs. The move would reverse former Democratic President Barack Obama's policy of accepting them.

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Nevada Army National Guard Sergeant Sam Hunt, an electrician with G Company, 2/238th General Support Aviation Battalion poses for a photo on the flight line at the Army Aviation Support Facility in Stead, Nevada, U.S. May 12, 2017. Hunt is the first openly transgender soldier of the Nevada National Guard. 

(Tech. Sgt. Emerson Marcus/Nevada Joint Force Headquarters Public Affairs/Handout via REUTERS)

Former US Army Colonel and transgender Sheri Swokowski talks with reporters on July 27, 2017 in DeForest, Wisconsin, the day following US President Donald Trumps announcing of a ban on transgender military members.

(DEREK R. HENKLE/AFP/Getty Images)

Transgender former US Air Force member Vanessa Sheridan poses for a photo after talking with reporters in Chicago, Illinois on July 26, 2017. Trump announced that transgender people may not serve 'in any capacity' in the US military, citing the 'tremendous medical costs and disruption' their presence would cause.

(DEREK R. HENKLE/AFP/Getty Images)

Kristin Beck, a former U.S. Navy SEAL, speaks during a same-sex marriage rally to celebrate the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Salt Lake City, Utah, June 25, 2014. The U.S. appeals court ruled on Wednesday that conservative Utah may not ban gay couples from marrying, a decision that capped a day of victories for same-sex nuptials and nudges the issue closer to the U.S. Supreme Court.

(REUTERS/Jim Urquhart)

Alaina Kupec poses for a portrait at Logo's 'Trailblazer Honors' on June 23, 2016, in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City.

(Photo by Ungano & Agriodimas /Getty Images Portrait)

Transgender military pilot Shane Ortega arrives at IDENTITY: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders The List Portraits exhibition opening at the Annenberg Space for Photography on September 22, 2016 in Century City, California.

(Photo by Amanda Edwards/WireImage)

Former US Army Colonel and transgender Sheri Swokowski carries her uniform July 27, 2017 in DeForest, Wisconsin, the day following US President Donald Trumps announcing of a ban on transgender military members.

(DEREK R. HENKLE/AFP/Getty Images)

Former US Army Colonel and transgender Sheri Swokowski raises the American flag at her home on July 27, 2017 in DeForest, Wisconsin, the day following US President Donald Trumps announcing of a ban on transgender military members.

(DEREK R. HENKLE/AFP/Getty Images)

Transgender former US Air Force member Vanessa Sheridan poses for a photo after talking with reporters in Chicago, Illinois on July 26, 2017. Trump announced that transgender people may not serve 'in any capacity' in the US military, citing the 'tremendous medical costs and disruption' their presence would cause.

(DEREK R. HENKLE/AFP/Getty Images)

Transgender Retired US Army Colonel Sheri Swokowski prepares her uniform on July 1, 2016, at her home in DeForest, Wisconsin. Transgender personnel will no longer be barred from serving openly in the US military, the Pentagon announced on June 30, 2016. Lifting the ban on transgender service members is 'the right thing to do, and it's another step in ensuring that we continue to recruit and retain the most qualified people,' US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told reporters.

(DEREK HENKLE/AFP/Getty Images)

*** EXCLUSIVE - VIDEO AVAILABLE *** ALTOONA, PA - JULY 28: Hayden Brown with his girlfriend Mia Scott at home on July 28, 2017 in Altoona, Pennsylvania. A TRANSGENDER solider says he was told, days after President Trump banning transgender people from the military, that he must carry out the rest of his military career as a woman if he wants to keep his job. Hayden Brown says that just days after Donald Trump tweeted he was to ban all transgender people from the military, he received a call from his unit telling him he must revert back to female to continue his service. The 23-year-old from Pennsylvania has been in the armed forces for four and a half years, initially identifying as a woman. PHOTOGRAPH BY Ruaridh Connellan / Barcroft Images London-T:+44 207 033 1031 E:hello@barcroftmedia.com - New York-T:+1 212 796 2458 E:hello@barcroftusa.com - New Delhi-T:+91 11 4053 2429 E:hello@barcroftindia.com www.barcroftmedia.com (Photo credit should read Ruaridh Connellan / Barcroft Ima / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
*** EXCLUSIVE - VIDEO AVAILABLE *** WASHINGTON DC - JANUARY 20: Collect image of Hayden Brown with his military comrades at the presidential inauguration briefing at the Washington Redskins stadium on January 20, 2017 in Washington DC. A TRANSGENDER solider says he was told, days after President Trump banning transgender people from the military, that he must carry out the rest of his military career as a woman if he wants to keep his job. Hayden Brown says that just days after Donald Trump tweeted he was to ban all transgender people from the military, he received a call from his unit telling him he must revert back to female to continue his service. The 23-year-old from Pennsylvania has been in the armed forces for four and a half years, initially identifying as a woman. PHOTOGRAPH BY Barcroft Images London-T:+44 207 033 1031 E:hello@barcroftmedia.com - New York-T:+1 212 796 2458 E:hello@barcroftusa.com - New Delhi-T:+91 11 4053 2429 E:hello@barcroftindia.com www.barcroftmedia.com (Photo credit should read Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
*** EXCLUSIVE - VIDEO AVAILABLE *** ALTOONA, PA - JULY 28: Hayden Brown at home on July 28, 2017 in Altoona, Pennsylvania. A TRANSGENDER solider says he was told, days after President Trump banning transgender people from the military, that he must carry out the rest of his military career as a woman if he wants to keep his job. Hayden Brown says that just days after Donald Trump tweeted he was to ban all transgender people from the military, he received a call from his unit telling him he must revert back to female to continue his service. The 23-year-old from Pennsylvania has been in the armed forces for four and a half years, initially identifying as a woman. PHOTOGRAPH BY Ruaridh Connellan / Barcroft Images London-T:+44 207 033 1031 E:hello@barcroftmedia.com - New York-T:+1 212 796 2458 E:hello@barcroftusa.com - New Delhi-T:+91 11 4053 2429 E:hello@barcroftindia.com www.barcroftmedia.com (Photo credit should read Ruaridh Connellan / Barcroft Ima / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - NOVEMBER 9: Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Brock Stone, who is based at Fort Meade and has served in the Navy for 11 years, including a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan, speaks to reports federal court with his team from the ACLU on November 9, 2017 in Baltimore, Maryland. Brock Stone is challenging President Trump's policy banning transgender people from serving in the military. (Photo by Jason Andrew for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
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Several service members, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, filed suit in August alleging the ban violated their right under the U.S. Constitution to equal protection under the law.

Lead plaintiff Brock Stone, 34, has served in the U.S. Navy for 11 years and wants to remain for at least 20 years, according to court papers.

After his policy announcement on Twitter, Trump signed a memorandum in August directing the armed forces not to accept transgender people as recruits and stopped the use of government funds for sex-reassignment surgeries for active-duty personnel unless the process was already underway.

The memo called on Defense Secretary James Mattis to submit a plan to the Republican president by Feb. 21 on how to implement the changes, and the Pentagon has created a panel of senior officials for that purpose. In the meantime, the current policy of allowing transgender people to serve remained in place.

Garbis said the transgender ban was not driven by genuine concerns for military efficacy.

"The lack of any justification for the abrupt policy change, combined with the discriminatory impact to a group of our military service members who have served our country capably and honorably, cannot possibly constitute a legitimate governmental interest," he wrote in his ruling.

A U.S. Department of Justice representative could not immediately be reached. The ACLU also could not be reached.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham and Andrew Hay)

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