Together with the National ACLU, we represent U.S. Army Private First Class (PFC) Chelsea Elizabeth Manning in seeking to obtain proper medical treatment for her gender dysphoria while she is serving a 35-year sentence at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, for disclosing classified information to WikiLeaks in 2010.

When we filed suit in September 2014, PFC Manning had been in military custody for more than four years, and at Ft. Leavenworth for more than a year, without receiving any treatment, despite her requests and the ACLU’s requests on her behalf. We filed a motion for a preliminary injunction with our complaint, arguing that treatment was medically necessary and that its denial was cruel and unusual punishment. Soon after, the Army developed a treatment plan for PFC Manning and began to provide psychotherapy for gender dysphoria, female undergarments, prescribed cosmetics, speech therapy, and hormone replacement therapy.

In September, the Army decided not to allow PFC Manning to grow hair in accordance with the standards for female prisoners, citing unspecified security risks. We filed an amended complaint in October, asserting both Eighth Amendment and Equal Protection claims.

On May 18, 2016, PFC Manning filed her brief to the Army Court of Criminal Appeals, appealing her conviction and sentence. On the same date, the National ACLU filed an amicus brief, which argued:  

The conviction and sentence of PFC Manning under the Espionage Act must be overturned for two reasons. First, the Espionage Act is unconstitutionally vague, because it provides the government a tool that the First Amendment forbids: a criminal statute that allows the government to subject speakers and messages it dislikes to discriminatory prosecution. Second, even if the Act were not unconstitutional in all its applications, the military judge’s application of the Act to PFC Manning violated the First Amendment because the military judge did not permit PFC Manning to assert any defense that would allow the court to evaluate the value to public discourse of any of the information she disclosed. The military judge therefore failed to weigh the public interest in the disclosures against the government interest in preventing them, as required by the First Amendment.

President Obama commuted PFC Manning's sentence on January 17, 2017, and PFC Manning took her first steps of freedom on May 17, 2017, as posted on her Twitter feed. Five days later, we voluntarily dismissed the civil lawsuit challenging the conditions of her confinement. Her appeal of her court-martial conviction was unsuccessful: In 2018 the Army Court of Appeals upheld her court-martial conviction for violating the Espionage Act; in 2019 the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces denied her petition for review.

Pro Bono Law Firm(s)

Jenner & Block, LLP;Law Office of David E. Coombs, Providence, Rhode Island (civilian defense counsel at Pvt. Manning’s court martial)

Date filed

September 15, 2014