RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A federal appeals court in Virginia on Thursday denied a Trump administration request to delay a requirement that it begin allowing transgender people to enlist in the military on Jan. 1.
A three-judge panel of the Richmond-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals wrote in a short order that it would not grant the request as an appeal of a lower-court ruling proceeds.
President Donald Trump tweeted in July that the federal government "will not accept or allow" transgender individuals to serve "in any capacity" in the military. That would reverse a 2016 policy change under President Barack Obama allowing transgender people to serve openly.
Trump later formally directed the Pentagon to extend indefinitely a ban on transgender individuals joining the military, and he gave Defense Secretary Jim Mattis six months to come up with a policy on how to deal with those currently serving.
Several legal challenges to that proposed ban are ongoing.
Thursday's order came in a lawsuit filed in Maryland by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of six current members of the armed forces who are transgender. A U.S. district judge in Baltimore halted the proposed ban in November, and the government is appealing.
The ACLU hailed the 4th Circuit's order.
"We are happy that the court saw through the government's smoke screen and rejected its request to further delay the policy allowing transgender people to enlist. The military has already developed comprehensive guidance to prepare for a January 1 start date, and the government failed to offer any credible reason why transgender people should be barred from enlisting if they can meet the same rigorous standards that apply to everyone else," senior staff attorney Josh Block said in a statement.
The Department of Justice disagrees with the court's ruling and is currently evaluating next steps, spokeswoman Lauren Ehrsam said.
The Pentagon said last week that the enlistment of transgender recruits will start Jan. 1 and go on amid the legal battles.