By Andrew Chung
NEW YORK (Reuters) - President Donald Trump's administration on Friday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review lower court rulings blocking a policy barring certain transgender people from military service, declining to wait for decisions from federal appeals courts currently considering the issue.
Trump announced in March that he would endorse a plan by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to restrict the military service of transgender people who experience a condition called gender dysphoria. The policy replaced an outright ban on transgender service members that Trump announced last year on Twitter, citing concern over military focus and medical costs.
But judges in federal courts in Washington state, California, and Washington, D.C., refused to lift injunctions that they had issued against Trump's original ban to allow the updated policy to be enforced.
The judges said the new policy was essentially the same as the original ban, or was merely a plan to implement the original ban, which they had ruled would likely run afoul of the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of equal protection under the law.
The government's appeals of those rulings had been moving forward. The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in one case it is handling in October.
But by seeking high court review before the appeals courts have ruled, which has been a hallmark of the administration's litigation strategy, the government said it wanted to ensure that the Supreme Court would be able to review the dispute before its term ends in June 2019.
The American Psychiatric Association defines gender dysphoria as a "clinically significant distress" due to a conflict between a person's gender identity and their sex assigned at birth. Not all transgender people suffer from gender dysphoria, according to the association, which opposes the military ban.
Current and aspiring military service members sued in courts around the United States after Trump announced his ban, which reversed Democratic former President Barack Obama's policy of allowing transgender troops to serve openly and receive medical care to transition genders.
In the court filing requesting the Supreme Court's review, the Justice Department said Mattis and other military leaders determined that the Obama policy "posed too great a risk to military effectiveness and lethality."
"This is simply one more attempt by a reckless Trump administration to push through a discriminatory policy," said Jennifer Levi, director of the transgender rights project for the antidiscrimination group GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, who represents some of the plaintiffs.
(Reporting by Andrew Chung; editing by Jonathan Oatis)