Don't Ask Don't Tell

  • October 13, 2010
    Yesterday's decision by U.S. District Court Judge Virginia Phillips barring nationwide enforcement of the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Policy," has been called a "gay rights milestone," by The New York Times and widely celebrated by advocates for equality. But Adam Winkler, a constitutional law professor at UCLA law school, writes in a Times online discussion, that the "groundbreaking ruling" may be short-lived.

    Winkler, a supporter of gay rights, notes, "Permanent injunctions of this sort are unusual in cases of this magnitude and novelty, which run contrary to the established precedent and disrupt, for better or worse, settled expectations. In such circumstances, courts usually stay their rulings to enable the appellate courts to consider the controversy. That's what happened in the recent case involving California's ban on same-sex marriage."

    Winkler continues:

    Yesterday's permanent injunction faces a tough road. Ending the policy on gays in the military will have broad and far-reaching effects, stretching across many continents and affecting thousands of personnel decisions. If the appeals court judges have any uncertainty about the constitutional question here - and given the numerous precedents going the other way, how could they not? - they'll want to preserve the status quo until they can hear arguments and see briefing in the case. To do that, however, they'll have to block the injunction from taking effect. If they don't, expect the conservative Supreme Court to do it for them.

    In September, one federal judge told me that he feared that if Judge Phillips entered a permanent injunction, the appeals court would see her decision as an effort to advance a cause rather than a dispassionate conclusion based on appropriate judicial reasoning.

    If that's correct, then yesterday's injunction shouldn't be cause for celebration among proponents of gay rights, of which I am one. Judge Phillips's boldness might increase the chances that her ruling invalidating "don't ask, don't tell" will ultimately be overturned.

    In early September, Judge Phillips ruled that the military's ban on gays serving openly in the military violates the Constitution's First and Fifth Amendments. Judge Phillips wrote in Log Cabin Republicans v. U.S., "The don't ask, don't tell policy infringes on the fundamental rights to the United States service members in many ways. In order to justify the encroachment of these rights, defendants faced the burden at trial of showing the don't ask, don't tell act was necessary to further the government's important interests in military readiness and unit cohesion. Defendants failed to meet that burden."

    Following her decision, Phillips asked the parties to submit briefs on the appropriate remedy. In her Oct. 12 decision, the judge sided with the Log Cabin Republicans' arguments to issue a permanent injunction against the military's policy. "As Plaintiff correctly points out," Phillips wrote, "it challenged the Act on its face, not as applied to it or its members. Therefore, its entitlement to relief is not constrained as Defendants suggest, and the Court is not limited to granting a remedy that would affect only Plaintiff and its members."

    As noted by Professor Winkler, administrations generally have a duty to defend laws passed by Congress, even ones with which they disagree. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said yesterday that the Department of Justice was reviewing Phillips' decision, but noted President Obama's opposition to Don't Ask, Don't Tell, saying the president would "continue to work as hard as he can to change the law that he believes is fundamentally unfair."

    Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has stated his belief that the policy should be repealed, but that it should be done by Congress. In late September, Mullen said that he has "struggled greatly with the fact that we asked people in an institution that values integrity, which is who we are, that we would ask individuals to show up every day and basically lie."

    For more on the history of Don't Ask, Don't Tell and efforts to repeal it, see video of an ACS panel discussion here.

  • September 29, 2010
    Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reiterated his support of repealing the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," policy, The Huffington Post's Sam Stein reports.

    Earlier this year, Mullen told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the policy, which bars lesbians and gay men from serving openly, should be done away with. "No matter how I look a the issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens."

    As Stein notes, a measure to repeal the policy was blocked last week by Senate Republicans. At an event sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor Mullen, according to Stein, expressed disappointment over the Senate's action and restated his support for ending the policy.

    "I am very clear where I was on February 2 and where I am today," Mullen said. "This is my personal view. I struggled greatly with the fact that we asked people in an institution that values integrity, which is who we are, that we would ask individuals to show up every day and basically lie. So my position on that hasn't changed at all."

    Mullen, however, said he would prefer that Congress take the lead in dumping the policy instead of the military revising it.

    Groups pushing for the repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," are still urging lawmakers to vote on repealing the policy before year's end.

  • September 21, 2010
    Supporters of ending the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," policy are expressing dismay and promising perseverance in the face of the Senate's refusal to vote on ending the policy, which bars lesbians and gay men from serving openly in the military.

    Senate Republicans obstructed an effort to debate the defense authorization bill, which includes a provision to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," The New York Times reports. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the newspaper reports, "switched his vote to no at the last minute, a procedural maneuver that allows him to call for a revote." Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said, "We should not deny the opportunity to take up the bill, which is essential for the men and women in the military because we disagree with some of the provisions in the bill."

    Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a leading organization in the efforts to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," said in a press statement, "Today's Senate vote was a frustrating blow to repeal this horrible law. We lost because of the political maneuvering dictated by the midterm elections. Let's be clear: Opponents to repealing ‘Don't Ask, Don't Tell' did not have the votes to strike those provisions from the bill. Instead, they had the votes for delay. Time is the enemy here. We now have no choice but to look to the lame duck session where we'll have a slim shot. The Senate absolutely must schedule a vote in December when cooler heads and common sense are more likely to prevail once midterm elections are behind us. Servicemembers Legal Defense Network will continue to take this fight to the American people, the vast majority of whom support repeal of ‘Don't Ask, Don't Tell.'"

    The Palm Center, a research group at the University of California, Santa Barbara, which has published reports on the ineffectiveness of the policy, also lamented the Senate's action. Christopher Neff, deputy executive director of the Palm Center, said, "Discharges and discrimination will continue because of today's vote in the Senate. This was not just a vote on whether to end a filibuster. This was a vote on the Senate floor on whether to end discrimination against gays and lesbians in the U.S. Military."

    Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said in a press statement, that lawmakers are once again "playing politics with people's lives. Filibustering the defense authorization bill to block action on ‘Don't Ask, Don't Tell' repeal ... is a disappointment and disservice to our country."

    The Family Research Council, a lobbying group for religious conservatives, praised the senate action, specifically lauding "Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senator John McCain and Senator Jim Inhofe for their successful efforts to stop this legislation which would not only force open homosexuality on the military but also turn our military hospitals into abortion clinics."

    For more on the efforts to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," watch video of an ACS panel discussion here.

  • September 14, 2010
    Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has announced he'll soon bring the yearly Pentagon authorization bill, including a provision to repeal the controversial "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," (DADT) policy, to the Senate floor. DADT bars lesbians and gay men from serving openly in the military and has resulted in scores of service members being kicked out. Last week, a federal judge in California ruled the policy violates the constitutional rights of gay service members.

    The New York Times reports that some Republicans are girding to block the repeal provision. According to the newspaper, Sen. John McCain a senior member of the Armed Services Committee will try to block the measure because "he said the White House is moving to repeal ‘don't ask, don't tell,' without properly gauging the impact on battle readiness and troop morale."

    While civil liberties groups pushing for repeal of DADT, lauded Reid's announcement, they also sounded a note of caution over efforts to stymie or defeat the repeal provision.

    Aubrey Sarvis, an Army veteran and executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a group that has long worked to repeal DADT, said in a press statement, "Repeal proponents may well need 60 votes in the Senate to get to this important debate in September. We are now in the final stretch and we must prevail. Repeal supporters should not stop calling their senators. Sen. John McCain has been a strong and vocal opponent from the start and it is critical that we beat back any filibuster threat, defeat attempts to strike repeal, and defeat any crippling amendments."

    See video of an ACS panel discussion, in which Sarvis participated, regarding the history of DADT and the repeal efforts. For analysis on the impact on DADT see the Palm Center's research here.

  • September 10, 2010
    The federal court decision that the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," (DADT) policy is unconstitutional is unlikely to dampen efforts to repeal it. The decision issued late yesterday by U.S. District Court Judge Virginia A. Phillips said the policy subverts the Constitution's First and Fifth Amendments. But the decision, as reported by The New York Times, will not immediately change the policy. Parties in the lawsuit were encouraged by the judge to file briefs supporting and opposing a proposed injunction of the ruling. Judge Phillips wrote, "The don't ask, don't tell policy infringes on the fundamental rights of United States service members in many ways. In order to justify the encroachment of these rights, defendants faced the burden at trial of showing the don't ask, don't tell act was necessary to further the government's important interests in military readiness and unit cohesion. Defendants failed to meet that burden."

    Aubrey Sarvis, head of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), a group involved in urging Congress to repeal DADT, said, "We're pleased by the judge's decision, but this decision is likely to be appealed and will linger for years. Congress made the DADT law 17 years ago and Congress should repeal it. The Senate will have the opportunity to do just that this month and most Americans think the Senate should seize it."

    Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said in a press statement that the ruling "affirms what so many of us already know: ‘Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' should end, and for good reason: it is discriminatory, outdated and unfair." She continued, "Our nation's political leaders must end this unjust law once and for all. The lives and livelihoods of dedicated service members hang in the balance."

    The Palm Center, a think tank at the University of California, Santa Barbara, which has produced reams of material on the ineffectiveness of DADT, said the ruling should add pressure to lawmakers to repeal the law.

    Palm Center Director Aaron Belkin called the decision "historic," and said it "makes clear that there is no legal or military justification for banning gay service in the military. It now comes down to the Senate in September. A vote on the Defense Authorization bill would allow the Pentagon to put forward a new policy of non-discrimination in 2011."

    For a detailed history of DADT and the efforts to repeal it see video of an ACS panel discussion, which includes Sarvis and Nathaniel Frank, a leading researcher and author about DADT. Frank talked with ACSblog following the event about DADT and its effect on the military and gay service members. His interview is available here.