Barring a last-minute court intervention, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Friday that the military was ready to begin processing transgender recruits on Jan. 1 but withheld comment on whether he backed the move.
"We'll obey whatever the law says," Mattis told Pentagon reporters. "It's a court case right now," Mattis said of several federal court rulings that President Donald Trump's proposed ban on transgender individuals serving in the military was unconstitutional.
"The Department of Justice is handling it," Mattis said. "If they're not appealing it, we'll be notified of that" and be prepared to take in transgender recruits as ordered starting Jan. 1.
Mattis declined to say whether he welcomed the lower court rulings and the acceptance of transgender individuals into the military.
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"I'm not going to get into this right now," he said. "I don't get into singling out and welcoming this group or that group, or that gender or anything else. That's not my role."
In a surprise move in July, Trump sent out a Tweet announcing a ban on transgender individuals serving in the military and later followed that up with formal notice to the Pentagon to enforce the ban.
Advocacy groups and transgender personnel currently serving in the military immediately filed a series of federal suits against the ban. Several lower courts ruled in their favor and the Trump administration lost again last week in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
The case was likely to go to the Supreme Court but DoD has already said that it will honor the Jan. 1 deadline while the court battles continue.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.