Covington Joins ACLU in Latest Suit Against Trump Administration

Lawyers at Covington & Burling have joined the American Civil Liberties Union in the latest lawsuit against the Trump administration, challenging the President’s recent decision to ban transgender men and women from serving in the armed forces.

Covington previously supported the ACLU in its efforts to end a longstanding ban on transgender service members. That ban was overturned by the Obama administration in 2016, when the Secretary of Defense issued a directive that transgender service members be able to serve openly without fear of being discharged.

In a memorandum on Aug. 25th, President Trump directed the defense department to “return to” the pre-2016 policy and banned the use of government funds for “sex-reassignment surgical procedures” regardless of cost or medical necessity.

“When the memorandum was issued on Friday it was apparent to us that this was going to cause immediate harm to the transgender community serving in the military,” said Covington partner David Zionts. He and a team of eight other Covington attorneys spent the weekend working with the ACLU on the lawsuit.  

In a complaint filed in Maryland federal court Monday, the lawyers alleged the policy change violates the Constitution’s Equal Protection clause by unfairly singling out transgender service members against the recommendations of the defense department.

Partner Mitchell Kamin, co-leader of Covington’s LGBT+ initiative, said the case was a natural fit because of the firm’s prior pro bono work defending LGBT rights.

The lawsuit is not the firm’s first time squaring off against the Trump Administration, however.

Earlier in the year, Covington was retained on a short-term contract by the California Legislature to aid in its response to various Trump administration policies that conflict with the state’s goals, including in the areas of energy and immigration. That work is being led by former Attorney General Eric Holder, who returned to Covington in 2015.

Covington has also joined the City of Los Angeles in a lawsuit challenging new Department of Justice guidelines that would block federal criminal justice funds from sanctuary cities. The suit is one of many. Attorneys from WilmerHale have joined the City of Chicago in similar case against the DOJ.

Big Law firms including Arnold & Porter and Hogan Lovells have also come to the aid of municipalities and non-profit organizations in lawsuits related to various iterations of the Trump administration’s Muslim travel ban, as well as cases pertaining to records and speech.

In June, Baker & McKenzie helped two watchdog groups sue the Trump administration for alleged violations of the Presidential Records Act, which requires the White House to preserve certain communications records. And in July, Jenner & Block joined Columbia University’s Knight First Amendment Institute to challenge the president’s decision to block certain followers from his Twitter account, which they argue is a public forum.

Both Kamin and Zionts stressed that Covington is not positioning itself against the Trump Administration, noting that the firm has challenged the policies of other presidents in the past.

But Kamin said the firm’s LGBT+ initiative is monitoring several “areas of concern” under the Trump administration, including the treatment of transgender students under the Department of Education and the expansion of religious freedom laws to allow for the discrimination against LGBT individuals and families.

So far, he has been busy.

“Speaking personally, I’m involved in two significant matters and that’s more than I have been in the past,” said Kamin. 

Write to the reporter at srussellkraft@gmail.com.

Write to the editors at gabefriedman@outlook.com and csullivan@bloomberglaw.com.

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