September 24, 2010
By Eden James
Wow. When the breaking news rains, it pours. Especially from federal courts:
TACOMA, Wash. (AP) — A federal judge says the Air Force violated the constitutional rights of a highly decorated flight nurse when it discharged her for being gay, and ordered that she be given her job back as soon as possible.
U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton issued his highly anticipated ruling Friday in the case of former Maj. Margaret Witt. She was discharged under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays serving in the military and sued to get her job back.
More to come, including statements.
3:25pm: Update by Andy Kelley
Servicemembers United released the following statement, praising the court’s decision as an important next step in the legal struggle to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell:”
“Yet another judge has taken yet another righteous, historic, and courageous stand against a discriminatory and unconstitutional law,” said Alexander Nicholson, founder and Executive Director of Servicemembers United. “Major Witt’s case is a clear-cut one in which her discharge itself actually harmed unit cohesion, morale, and combat readiness.” This legal victory against the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law is the second this month, with a judge in Riverside, California previously declaring the entire “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law unconstitutional in a facial challenge to the law brought by the Log Cabin Republicans. Major Witt’s victory will apply only to her own discharge, but the precedent set with this decision and the previous appellate court ruling in this case on the standard to be used in deciding on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” discharges all contribute to a significant shift in how courts appear to be viewing and treating the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law.
Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese added:
“By reinstating Major Witt, a decorated Air Force nurse discharged under ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ another federal court has demonstrated once again that this discriminatory law does not contribute to our nation’s security or defense,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese. “Had Major Witt been discharged in any other circuit in the country, she would not had her day in court. It is time for Congress and the Administration to recognize that his failed law should be removed from the books once and for all.”
You can read the full text of U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton’s decision here:
Aubrey Sarvis, Army veteran and executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, added that this ruling only serves to underscore the need for the Senate to take swift and decisive action to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell:”
“This is a stunning victory for Major Witt and all gay and lesbian patriots serving our country today. Clearly federal courts are trending towards allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly. It is only a matter of time before this happens throughout the armed forces, but these cases are slowly working their way through the legal process and it could well be years before there is finality in the courts. The favorable Witt decision, like the Log Cabin Republicans ruling, only underscores the urgent need for the Senate to take up repeal in the lame duck session.”
4:15pm update by Andy Kelley
In related news, the Log Cabin Republicans released the following statement criticizing the Justice Department’s decision to appeal US District Judge Virginia Phillips’ ruling earlier this month, declaring “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” unconstitutional:
“The Justice Department’s objections fail to recognize the implications of the government’s defeat at the trial. It is as if the South announced that it won the Civil War,” said Dan Woods, White & Case attorney who is representing the Log Cabin Republicans. “The objections also fail to mention that the court has previously denied the government’s requests for a stay on three prior occasions and nothing has changed to suggest that a stay is now appropriate; if anything, the Senate vote this week shows that the court was correct in denying the prior requests for a stay. But what is most troubling is that the government’s request for a stay ignores the harm that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell causes to current and potential members of our Armed Forces. That is the saddest, most disappointing, and, in light of the President’s position, most hypocritical part of the objections.”
You can read their full legal response below: